Metro Weekly

UPDATED: Danica Roem raises more than $23,000 in response to Westboro Baptist Church protest

Roem touts donations as an example of people finding a "positive, nonviolent way to respond to hate"

Danica Roem – Photo by Julian Vankim

Virginia Del. Danica Roem has raised more than $23,000 from people in response to a story that the Westboro Baptist Church was planning to protest Roem’s status as a General Assembly lawmaker in two separate protests on March 11.

Westboro, whose name has become infamous for its anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, protests against the LGBTQ community, and pickets of soldier’s funerals, announced on its website that it intended to picket outside the State Capitol in Richmond.

“Today, the Virginia General Assembly is famous for one thing before God and the angels: You are harboring an enemy of God!” Westboro said in a news release. “Danica Roem fills the air with words about how to ‘balance’ covering ‘an LGBTQ elected official.’ Blah, blah, blah. That dog won’t hunt, Danica. You have one attribute with which you present to a doomed nation and decaying world: you are a proud abominable transgender rebel.

“Nothing else matters. The media exalts you as such; and that is all you think about, day and night. A slave to sin, a product of a nation that has forgotten God, you lift your proud face to God, and flip Him off. What sorrow you reap, for yourself and all those around you, temporally and eternally.”

The church also expressed its intention to picket on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University later that same morning.

According to VCU’s policies and events website, members of the public may use university “only by invitation” from a university employee or student. However, members of the public may reserve the Park Plaza amphitheater without an invitation “no more than five days in advance of the desired date of use” — which may be why the church has yet to issue an official news release with a finalized time and date.

Nonetheless, VCU officials tweeted out a statement that they were aware of Westboro’s plans to picket “on City of Richmond public property, near campus.”

“While their views are antithetical to VCU’s core values of diversity and inclusion, their free speech — and ours — is a guaranteed constitutional right,” the statement said.

Roem, a Manassas-area Democrat who defeated 13-term Republican incumbent Del. Bob Marshall in 2017, has largely downplayed the importance of her gender identity while in office, instead focusing on promoting a shield law for journalists, school breakfast programs, establishing a Freedom of Information Act ombudsman within the Attorney General’s office, and transportation-related issues. 

In response to the story of Westboro’s planned picket, Roem put out a statement on Twitter saying in response: “Meh,” before adding: “Oh, and donate money to my re-election campaign. They’ll hate that.”

In an email to supporters, Roem noted that people began contributing to her campaign on Mar. 1. Within 12 hours, she had raked in 392 donations that totaled $15,962 for her re-election campaign. In the 43 minutes after midnight on Mar. 1, she amassed an additional $476 from 17 additional donors, bringing the total haul to $16,438. The hashtag #WestboroBackfire even began trending on Twitter as supporters of Roem took to social media to announce their decision to donate to her.

Following news of the donations, Westboro accused Roem of “mocking sin” and engaging in “greedy fundraising.” 

UPDATE: In response, Roem tweeted: “I said WBC would hate it if you donated to my re-election campaign and oh-do-they now that the #WestboroBackfire has raised nearly $21K in two days. They’re now calling me ‘God’s enemy’ and accusing me of ‘greedy fundraising.’ Sooo… care to make it $25K?”

Roem told Metro Weekly that, since Saturday, she has received more than $7,000 via hundreds of additional small-dollar donations, and expects to soon surpass $25,000.

“Every time they say something, more people donate,” the first-term lawmaker said of Westboro.

She noted that a number of the donations she received came from people living in her House of Delegates district, which includes the communities of Haymarket, Gainesville, Manassas, and Manassas Park.

She also received a donation from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, a past donor who chairs the LGBTQ Victory Fund Board of Directors, who matched the first $5,000 raised by all the smaller donors.

“The point of sharing this with you is this is a good story about people finding a positive, nonviolent way to respond to hate by supporting someone targeted by that hate,” Roem told supporters in the email. “…I work hard for my constituents and I work in an inclusive way. We’re all in this together.

“You’ll notice all throughout the day I never wasted my time responding to the words used by the WBC, other than one sentence in one email because it was comically bad,” she added. “Instead, I set out to make the best out of a bad situation by doing what a good candidate for office should do: flip the script on something negative by raising money off of the response without amplifying the original negativity and driving a unifying message about love conquering hate.

“The people of the 13th District elected me to focus on their priorities of traffic, jobs, schools and health care while working to make Virginia a more inclusive commonwealth,” Roem concluded. “That way, no matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship if you do or who you love, you’re welcomed, celebrated, respected and protected here because of who you are, not despite it. Unless you’re WBC. Or neo-Nazis. Because, I mean… do I really need an asterisks to explain why?”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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