Metro Weekly

Danica Roem Misgendered by Virginia Lieutenant Governor

Winsome Earle-Sears first refused to apologize for calling trans lawmaker by a male honorific, then said she had "no intent to offend."

Danica Roem – Photo: Danica Roem; Winsome Earle-Sears – Photo: Office of the Lieutenant Governor

On Monday, the Virginia Senate went into recess when Democrats who control the chamber walked out in solidarity with Sen. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) after Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears misgendered Roem by referring to her with the honorific “sir.”

The exchange began as Roem asked Earle-Sears, presiding over the Senate, about the number of votes required for a bill to pass under a particular rule. 

“Yes, sir, that would be 32,” Earle-Sears said, prompting Roem to put down her microphone and walk out of the chamber.

Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon) called a recess, grinding business in the state’s upper chamber to a halt.

Initially, Earle-Sears refused to apologize. However, after a second recess, she addressed both sides of the chamber, saying, “I apologize.”

Earle-Sears appeared agitated while speaking, reported the Petersburg-area The Progress-Index. She said she meant no disrespect in her comment, but chastised Senate Democrats for what she claimed was “showing disrespect towards me” — appearing to reference her status as Virginia’s first-ever Black female lieutenant governor. 

Earle-Sears claimed there “was no intent to offend” when she referred to Roem using male honorifics, claiming to have misspoken, noting that “we are all equal under the law.”

“I understand Senator Roem is upset,” she said. “I’m not here to upset anyone. I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do.”

She also likened the behavior of some senators to “what we would not expect our children or our nieces and nephews to do.”

Roem, who became the first out transgender lawmaker elected to a state legislature in 2017 when she ran for the House of Delegates, made history again last fall when she was elected senator, becoming the body’s first transgender member and only its second-ever LGBTQ member, after fellow Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria).

Roem declined to comment on the incident in response to an inquiry from Metro Weekly.

Some progressive-leaning groups rallied around Roem, blasting Earle-Sears for her rhetoric and implying that the misgendering of Roem may have been intentional.

“Senator Danica Roem was gracious in the face of the Lieutenant Governor’s disrespect, but the fact is that she shouldn’t have to deal with that nonsense in her workplace” LaTwyla Matthias, the executive director of Progress VA, said in a statement. “Winsome Sears’s tired old bigotry is a relic of a previous age.”

Earle-Sears, elected alongside Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Attorney General Jason Miyares in a Republican sweep of the commonwealth’s top three offices in November 2021, campaigned on her socially conservative views.

As part of that push, she appeared in an ad with E.W. Jackson, a right-wing pastor who failed in his 2013 bid for lieutenant governor, who has a long history of anti-LGBTQ comments, including that LGBTQ people were incapable of being judges because they would be unable to remain objective if faced with an LGBTQ rights case. 

She also emphasized the Youngkin mantra of “parental rights” when it comes to education — seizing on various controversies over pro-transgender policies in schools, including pronoun usage, attempts to ban books with “inappropriate” or allegedly “sexual” content, discussions of or policies concerning race and structural racism in schools, and masking policies during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As lieutenant governor, Earle-Sears defended Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed “model policies” that require teachers to inform on students who identify as transgender or gender-nonconforming, bar transgender students from gender-affirming spaces and activities, and allow teachers and students to disregard a student’s stated gender identity with respect to names or pronouns.

In coming to Youngkin’s defense, Earle-Sears said that school districts that balked at adopting the so-called “model policies” were crafting policies “that destroy our families.”

Over two decades ago, in an op-ed for the Daily Press defending a proposed constitutional amendment barring same-sex couples from marrying, Sears dismissed the idea of same-sex nuptials as “radical” and asserted that “homosexuals” enjoyed sufficient rights under the law.

“I also believe our society has gone immeasurably beyond almost all standards in accommodating the homosexual community [over] the last couple of decades,” she wrote.

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!