The top Republican in Virginia's House of Delegates is calling to end the tradition of addressing lawmakers by formal male and female pronouns, after the state elected its first openly transgender candidate.
Lawmakers, who have been typically addressed as "gentleman" or "gentlewoman," would now be referred to as simply "delegate," the Washington Post reported.
The change has been lauded by Republican lawmakers, while Democrats called the decision "shameful," saying that lawmakers "ought to be big enough to get over these hang-ups we have."
"All members will be afforded the same respect and courtesy that this nearly 400-year-old institution commands," a spokesperson for Republican House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox said. "Speaker-designee Cox believes the 'gentlelady' and 'gentleman' terminology is outdated, and that referring to everyone as 'delegate' is more timely and appropriate."
The statement came amid questions about how the newly elected Democratic Delegate Danica Roem would be addressed when the new legislative session began in January.
"If Danica Roem had not won the election we would still be doing the same thing we have done for 400 years," Democratic Delegate Kenneth R. Plum said, expressing disappointment in the change. "Calling each other gentleman or gentlelady. It’s unfortunate that we, in effect, have to single out her election, as unique as it is.
During Roem's campaign, she was repeatedly referred to as a male by her opponent, Republican Rep. Bob Marshall. A flier that was paid for by Republican Party of Virginia also used male pronouns and "accused her of trumpeting her transgender identity to win more votes," the Post reported.
"They’re trying in some way to thread a needle with their own base," Bob Holsworth, a former Virginia Commonwealth University political-science professor said. "They’re willing to change the tradition in this sense before they will explicitly acknowledge Danica Roem as a woman."
Marshall also penned a letter to the editor a little more than a week after his loss to Roem and said, "Virginians must wake up, not be intimidated and fight this radical transgender agenda for the sake of our children and grandchildren."
But Roem has shrugged off the news and instead wants transgender people to realize that elected office is a possibility.
"What matters the most is that I’m there," Roem told the Post. "What matters the most to the people of the 13th District is that the woman they elected to serve them will be working on their behalf. I will be the delegate from Prince William, and I will conduct myself as the gentlewoman from Prince William while I’m in Richmond and in any other official capacity in which I serve."