By Danica Roem
If you’re from Falls Church, chances are you haven’t driven down a dirt road close to home in a little while.
That’s quickly becoming the case for many residents in the Town of Haymarket in western Prince William County, where a spur of residential growth has doubled the population in town just since the turn of the century.
Yet there is still one dirt road left in the northwestern part of town, one I passed countless times during my nine years covering the town as the lead reporter of the Gainesville Times from 2006-2015.
On April 15, I needed to knock on a door down that stretch of road, just three days before the special election for the Prince William Clerk of the Circuit Court.
As a Democratic candidate for the 13th District of the House of Delegates, our Clerk nominee Jacqueline Smith asked my campaign to lead her field efforts in that part of western Prince William County.
As the gravel crunched under the tires of my ‘98 Toyota, I looked to the left and saw a woman wearing a hijab standing in a garage.
She was the only targeted voter in that house, according to my walk sheet. So I parked the car, my step-daughter and I walked up and I introduced myself to her.
I told her about the upcoming election for Clerk of the Court and how Jacqueline Smith wanted to take the politics out of the courthouse and that everyone should be welcome at the courthouse, no matter what they look like, where they come from, how they worship or who they love.
As a transgender woman, I know discrimination has been a big problem both in the courthouse and in the 13th District. Our late Clerk Michele McQuigg defended the constitutional amendment authored by Del. Bob Marshall (R-13) banning all legal recognition for same-sex couples, including marriage equality.
They lost but Del. Marshall during the last two years has authored six anti-LGBTQ bills, including this year’s “bathroom bill,” while his constituents sit in perpetually congested traffic.
So as I talked up Jacqueline’s candidacy, the woman said she would be happy to vote for her April 18 and for me in the Democratic primary June 13. I thanked her and asked if any other adults were registered to vote in her home.
She said yes: three other women and one man who wasn’t home.
So I told the women why I supported Jacqueline for clerk, including her stance against discrimination, which I said meant a lot to me as a transgender woman.
They agreed and I explained that Tyler precinct, where we stood at that moment, was a swing precinct, a genuine battleground area.
It was a precinct Del. Marshall won in 2011, 2013 and 2015 but Hillary Clinton carried last year during the presidential race.
Turnout would be in single-digits, and in a battleground area like Tyler, I said one household could flip the precinct but only if all four of those women voted.
Three days later, all five registered voters from that home voted.
And we won Tyler by three votes: 86-83.
Without that house, we would have lost Tyler 83-81.
I tell you that story to say nothing replaces human interaction and dialogue between the candidate and the voter.
At the doors, I’ve come out as transgender to the residents and not one person has told me they won’t vote for me because of it. And in the precincts we targeted the heaviest for Jacqueline, where I personally knocked on doors for days, we won.
I know the risk of coming out at the doors. I covered two brutal homicides of young transgender women in Montgomery County in 2015 and 2016. The threat is real but that’s all the more reason why visibility matters so much.
When people meet me, I’m either the first transgender person they know they talked to or they’re happy to share a story about a LGBTQ person in their lives.
Either way, we have a conversation, one that inevitably comes back to traffic, jobs, schools, health care and taking care of people in need.
It’s a conversation I’ve had over and over in Haymarket, Gainesville, Manassas, Manassas Park and Yorkshire since my first day canvassing on a snowy Jan. 7 near Sudley Elementary School.
Nothing replaces the conversation. It’s why Jacqueline Smith won April 18 and with the soles of my shoes worn to a flat surface, it’s why I think I can make history and win June 13 and Nov. 7.
Danica Roem is a journalist, a lifelong Manassas resident and the first transgender person to run for the Virginia House of Delegates. She is competing in the June 13 Democratic primary for the 13th District.