Before Danica Roem made history in Virginia by becoming the first openly transgender person to be seated in a state legislature, she had to defeat an incumbent who frequently misgendered her, calling her “he” in an interview and distributing a flier with the heading “Danica Roem In His Own Words.”
In a recent interview with the Missoula Independent, Rodney Garcia, the Republican candidate for Montana’s 52nd State House District, repeatedly misgendered Democratic primary winner Amelia Marquez, a Latina transgender woman affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America. According to Indy reporters Derek Brouwer and Susan Elizabeth Shepard, Garcia “repeatedly referred to Marquez by her birth name,” claiming—in his own words—that he did so as a display of “respect and courtesy.”
After Brouwer reminded Garcia that Amelia Marquez’s first name is Amelia, Garcia told the alt-weekly reporter, “I just got a door hanger on my door and it says [Amelia] too, but I go by her given name”—a reference to a “walk card” that the Marquez campaign has left on the doorknobs of registered voters.
Marquez told The Daily Beast in an interview that she had a strong initial reaction to Garcia’s comments—but that she quickly tried to regain her poise.
“When I first saw that, of course I was fuming,” she said. “I was just so angry. But within that same 24 hours, I was like, no. What he wants is for me to get this angry. And he wants me to stop talking about the issues.”
Those issues—as the Indy noted—include a $15 minimum wage and single-payer health care. Marquez’s campaign website also focuses on topics like domestic violence, climate change, and campaign finance reform. But as a transgender candidate, Marquez knew that she would have to be prepared for precisely this form of disrespect.
“It’s kind of funny because I remember at the beginning of my campaign, a few of my team members and I were like, ‘What would we do in this situation?’” Marquez told The Daily Beast. “And all of us just agreed that it would suck, but it would also show our opponent’s real colors.”
“I expected at least somebody out there to give me this,” she added. “Did I think it was actually going to be my opponent? No. But we’re going to continue fighting exactly how we have been fighting.”
Garcia, who formerly worked in the oil field industry and served in the Montana House of Representatives for two years in the 1980s, did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.
The Republican candidate is currently caught up in another scandal: Earlier this month, as the Billings Gazette reported, he came under fire for accepting a $3,000 loan from Montana Public Service Commissioner Tony O’Donnell to, as Garcia himself said, “use on my campaign.”As the Gazette noted, $3,000 is around 17 times more than the individual campaign contribution limit of $180.
Brouwer, the reporter who interviewed Garcia for the Indy, told The Daily Beast that Garcia’s misgendering of Marquez—and his remarks about her gender identity—went beyond what could be included the article. Specifically, Brouwer told The Daily Beast that “Garcia’s pronoun usage was inconsistent,” sometimes using female pronouns to describe Marquez but using male pronouns at other times.
“My ‘reminder’ was a gentle comment along the lines of, ‘You know, she goes by Amelia, that’s her preferred name,’” Brouwer recalled, noting that Garcia responded by again referring to Amelia using her birth name, which many transgender people refer to as a “deadname” after transition.
Brouwer further explained to The Daily Beast that it was Garcia who raised the topic of Marquez being transgender, not the Indy.
“I hadn’t planned to ask Garcia about Marquez’s gender identity,” Brouwer said. “I’d told him I wanted to talk about running against a [Democratic Socialists of America] member, and wanted to learn whether he used Marquez’s affiliation with the group as a talking point on the campaign trail. He brought up her gender identity.”
Brouwer did not record the conversation with Garcia, relying instead on the notes and verbatim quotes he was able to jot down during the interview.
But the reporter told The Daily Beast that the Republican candidate made other comments about Marquez’s gender identity, implying, for example, that the many senior citizens in Montana’s 52nd District may disapprove of a transgender candidate for public office.
Marquez, however, has confidence in her electability, having won her primary by a nearly 30-point margin in June. She told The Daily Beast that “the people spoke and they said that they would much rather have some diversity up in Helena.”
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, an advocacy group that works to elect LGBT candidates, has endorsed Marquez and several other transgender women who are running in 2018. Elliot Imse, senior director of communication for the Victory Fund, said that homophobic and transphobic attacks on LGBT candidates still happen every cycle.
“Rodney Garcia’s intentional misuse of Amelia’s name is repulsive and an indictment on his character and civility,” Imse told The Daily Beast. “Amelia is running on a positive platform of expanding healthcare coverage for those in need and raising the state’s minimum wage. Garcia resorts to divisiveness and personal attacks because he lacks a positive vision for his district and is attempting to distract from the illegal campaign contribution that is dogging his campaign.”
Marquez told The Daily Beast that she’s not even sure how Garcia found out what her “deadname” was, saying that it’s possibly the sort of “small-town thing” that happens in Billings, Montana. Marquez says that she and Garcia were not acquainted before becoming political opponents.
“I know that I do have some extended family members that still deadname me, and it’s possible that he might have ties with some of them,” said Marquez. “With being in the Latino culture here in Billings, Montana—there’s quite a few of us but we’re all kind of connected one way or another as well.”
Now that the initial sting of Garcia’s comments has faded, Marquez hopes that other LGBT Montanans who reached out to say that they were “discouraged by [Garcia’s] comments” will remember that their GOP-controlled state legislature shut down an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” just last year.
“Montanans do not stand up for discrimination and when it comes down to it, they will fight,” she told The Daily Beast. “They will say we do not tolerate this.”
On a national stage, too, LGBT Americans will be closely watching races like Marquez’s. Last year, Roem’s successful bid for the 13th District seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates attracted so much media attention, in part, because her opponent Bob Marshall had sponsored a “bathroom bill.” (As NPR noted, such races “don’t usually draw a lot of national attention” but the contrast between the candidates was irresistible.)
By misgendering Marquez, Imse says, Garcia may only end up making Marquez’s win an especially cathartic one for the Victory Fund—just as Roem’s was a year ago.
“Amelia is a groundbreaking candidate who will make Montana history come November,” Imse told The Daily Beast. “And it will be all the more satisfying because she’ll beat an anti-LGBTQ opponent to do it.”