There are 7,383 legislators in this country’s state governments. None of them could tell Danica Roem what to expect when she became an elected Virginia delegate this January.
No one had ever taken the oath of a state office as an openly transgender woman. Roem was one of a kind — but not for long. Among all the congratulations last winter, there were emails from other trans people, including a woman named Brianna Titone in Colorado.
They were ready to follow her.
It was the beginning of a journey that would result in the apparent election this week of three more transgender women to state legislatures, including Titone, a Democrat in Colorado’s House District 27 around Arvada.
“I was thinking about running but I didn’t know if I could do it,” said Titone, 40. “When Danica Roem won her election, it kind of gave me the courage to say, ‘Someone else has done this, and now I have a chance to do this, too.’”
Titone declared victory Saturday morning and changed her Twitter handle to representative-elect as her lead increased to 368 votes among nearly 49,300 cast. All ballots have been counted except for an estimated 2,100 overseas and military ballots and those where signatures were challenged, according to Jefferson County elections officials. Nov. 14 is the deadline for those.
I want to thank everyone that supported me through this challenging campaign. Thank you so much to my constituents for believing in me to be your elected leader. I'm honored to be and looking forward to serving and making Colorado a better place for all.
— Rep-elect Brianna Titone – COHD27 (@BriannaForHD27) November 10, 2018
In addition, two trans women won statehouse seats in New Hampshire this week.
“You have a lot more people now who have the courage to be vulnerable enough to be visible,” said Roem, the Virginia delegate, on Friday. “… That represents a sea change in terms of what is possible in our America.”
In Arvada, Titone’s apparent win is all the more notable because she was running for a seat that Republicans have dominated in recent cycles.
House 27 is currently held by Rep. Lang Sias, a prominent Republican who ran for lieutenant governor this year. Amid a statewide blue wave, it became one of Colorado’s closest races this week, with Republican Vicki Pyne holding a narrow lead on Election Night.
However, as Jeffco continued counting ballots, Titone crept past Pyne late Wednesday afternoon, and the lead didn’t switch again.
“That race could have been a 16-point loss for any Democrat,” said Michal Rosenoer, who coached Titone in the Emerge Colorado leadership incubator. “Brianna was able to pull it off because she worked incredibly hard and because she really cared about her community.”
If other results hold, Titone would be part of the first state House session where the majority of representatives are women, Roesoner noted.
Roem was an adviser to Titone throughout the campaign. She appeared at one campaign event, drawing in volunteers for Titone — but neither woman made gender a central part of their elections. Instead, the Arvada candidate visited thousands of homes personally, and her campaign visited perhaps 40,000 households in total.
“She told me the issues are the most important thing to the voters. I should always focus on the issues. Don’t focus on identity stuff,” Titone said in an interview. “Just knock on a lot of doors and focus on the voters’ needs and what they need for a legislator, and that’s what I did.”
She was speaking by phone from the airy rotunda of the statehouse on Friday, where she was taking an introductory tour with other new electeds. It was a moment she could scarcely have expected just a few years ago.
Titone, 40, is a newcomer to politics. She has led her homeowners association in western Arvada since 2014, but her real introduction came in 2016, when she represented Bernie Sanders as a county delegate.
At the same time, she was beginning her public life as a trans woman: She came out in 2015 to neighbors and friends.
“It was kind of in me for a long time, and I was afraid to be myself for so long, and once I was able to affirm who I was and what desires I had to better the community,” Titone said, “it just felt like the right thing to do at the right time.”
Born in New York’s Hudson Valley, Titone is a graduate of the State University of New York at New Paltz and worked for seven years as a volunteer firefighter in that state. A geologist and software developer by trade, she moved 10 years ago to Colorado and has lived in Arvada since.
On the trail, the candidate mixed a message of social justice and equality with the suburban concerns that get voters to the polls, like growth planning, Rosenoer said.
“Running for office has never been about me. It’s always been about what I could do to better my community, whether that’s people who live in and around where I am, but the trans community and the LGBTQ community as well,” Titone said. She wanted to make “a ripple,” she said.
Roem said she expects growing diversity in statehouses to have real effects on policy. “This year marks the first time in my memory that there were no anti-LGBTQ bills by any member of the Virginia General Assembly,” she said. “That’s a product of what happens when we win elections.”
And more than anything, the Virginia delegate expects that Titone will quickly impress her district.
“When you elect trans folk, we are really good at constituent services,” said Roem, a former newspaper reporter.
“Because we know what it’s like to be singled out and stigmatized by the very people who are elected to serve us. That means when we get into office we are going to be inclusive leaders who are focused on serving our constituents instead of attacking them.”
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