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GOP Wants to Do Away With Gendered Titles in General Assembly

They don't want to admit it, but they're making this push in order to avoid calling Danica Roem a woman.

Marilyn Drew Necci | November 27, 2017

As of right now, members of Virginia’s House Of Delegates are addressed as “gentleman” or “gentlelady” on the House floor. Word came out last week, though, that the GOP want to end this tradition. In a statement released through a spokesman last Tuesday, House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox of Colonial Heights said if Republicans retain control of the GA in 2018, that all House members will now be referred to by the gender-neutral term “Delegate.”

Cox spokesman Parker Slaybaugh attempted to paint the decision as a high-minded acknowledgement of our modern age, saying, “All members will be afforded the same respect and courtesy that this nearly 400-year-old institution commands. Speaker-designee Cox believes the ‘gentlelady’ and ‘gentleman’ terminology is outdated, and that referring to everyone as ‘delegate’ is more timely and appropriate.”

And really, this might seem like a progressive move, in a way–after all, ridding the world of gender-designating titles can’t really be seen as a bad thing. However, there’s clearly a deeper agenda here. Delegate-Elect Danica Roem, who defeated long-serving anti-LGBTQ Republican Bob Marshall earlier this month to become the House representative from Virginia’s 13th District, is — as we all know by now — the first openly transgender person to serve in the General Assembly of Virginia, or indeed in any state-level political office.

Throughout their campaign against her — as we previously spotlighted in multiple reports — Marshall and his Republican colleagues used male pronouns to refer to Roem in a blatantly anti-transgender propaganda move that, thankfully, ended up backfiring. Now, the House’s remaining Republicans are faced with an awkward choice. Either they gender Roem correctly on the House floor, which becomes yet another admission of defeat that hurts their little LGBTQ-hating hearts; or they attempt to refer to her as a “gentleman” and immediately create a conflict between parties and, no doubt, with the general public.

This move by Cox is an attempt by Virginia Republicans to sidestep that entire conversation, and it was recognized for what it is immediately by Roem. She fired back on Twitter Tuesday evening, beginning by saying “I know the intent behind this wasn’t charitable towards me,” and mentioning that David J. Toscano, the Democratic Delegate from the 57th District who will become House Speaker if the Democrats take control of the Assembly, has her back.

However, she also made the point that this sort of change could be a positive move when seen in some lights, ending her statement by saying, “I hope the unintended consequence of this will be non-binary Virginians feeling emboldened to run for office & win.”

36-year House veteran Kenneth R. Plum, of Fairfax’s 36th district told the Washington Post he was “really disappointed” by Cox’s decision. “If Danica Roem had not won the election we would still be doing the same thing we have done for 400 years, calling each other gentleman or gentlelady,” he pointed out. “It’s unfortunate that we, in effect, have to single out her election, as unique as it is.”

Even Travis Witt, the Mineral, VA-based pastor and former chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation (if you’re still wondering who puts up those yellow signs covered in right-wing rants on random country roads, look no further than these guys), acknowledges what’s really going on here in his comment to the Washington Post. “It’s one of those things that we’re going to be forced to deal with,” he says. “It’s much safer to use a nebulous, neutral term.”

This raises a thorny question — safer for who, exactly? Is using these terms protecting Roem and other potential future transgender and non-binary delegates? Possibly. However, it seems far more likely that the GOP are concerned with protecting their own seats and keeping from dealing with angry constituents who can’t handle seeing their representatives call a trans woman a woman. Ugh.

At this point, control of the House Of Delegates in 2018 is totally up in the air; things have gotten really crazy with a couple of very close races, in the 28th and 88th Districts. Rogue registrars, misassigned voters, possible special elections — it’s a whole thing. Until all of that gets resolved, we won’t really know how all of this plays out. But keep an eye on the Republican delegation this year — if this early incident is any indicator, we can expect quite a bit of anti-trans trickeration where their dealings with Delegate-Elect Roem are concerned. I can’t hardly wait.

Photo: Roem campaigns with Ralph Northam on Oct. 23. Photo by Mike Beaty, from Facebook.