This week, Jess Herbst, the mayor of New Hope, Texas, made a big announcement: she is transgender–and will no longer use the name Jeff. In a time of political turmoil, this is especially monumental.
Herbst’s message appeared on the home screen of the official website of New Hope, a small town of about 630 residents about 40 miles north of Dallas. For a small town, this news is the first of its kind, but it’s also the first for the entire state of Texas. In an interview, Herbst stated:
“As far as I know, I am the first openly transgender mayor on record in the state of Texas; there could be others who never came out. But I am the first to say, ‘Yes I am transgender and a seated mayor.’”
In her statement on the town’s website, she wrote:
“As your mayor I must tell you about something that has been with me since my earliest memories. I am Transgender. Two years ago, with the support of my wife, daughters and son-in-law, I began hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
At the time, I did not imagine I would hold the mayor’s position, but here I am.”
Ms. Herbst has been active in local government since 2003, and in 2016, she was appointed New Hope’s mayor after the previous official passed away.
While Herbst, 58, is using female pronouns, she also said she expects it to take time for people to note the change:
“I’m not especially sensitive to the pronoun I’m called, and I expect people to take time to make the change. I use the name Jess, a simple change from Jeff.
I live my life as a female now, and I will be performing my duties to the town as such.”
During the town hall meeting on January 31, Herbst dressed publicly as a woman for the first time and explained how the experience was overwhelmingly positive:
“It was phenomenally positive; everyone was supportive. We had a fairly packed crowd for a tiny town — there were 15 or 20 people there. I explained to the people who had not just had a chance to see the website, and everybody said, ‘O.K.,’ and we went on and had a meeting.”
Unfortunately, not everyone was quite as supportive–which also doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Apparently, Herbst was given a “very stern lecture” by the town attorney about laws that govern elections, and she was advised not to change her name before the coming election cycle. Most replies to announcements on her Facebook page were largely positive, which is significant considering it’s legal to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in Texas, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Terri Burke, the executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, applauded Herbst for being so honest and brave, stating:
“We applaud Mayor Herbst’s decision to serve her community openly in public office and take a stand against hateful rhetoric coming from some of our legislators.
Some Texas lawmakers are attempting to exclude transgender Texans from public spaces with legislation like SB6, but we should be making it easier for them to share their skills and talents with us, not pushing them out of public restrooms and public life.”
When it comes to Herbst’s marriage, the couple have no intention to separate, as she explained:
“It is gender identity, not sexual preference that applies to me. I love my wife, and she loves me. We have no intention of change. My daughters have been adamant supporters of me and are proud to tell people their father is transgender.”
In a time when it’s easier to hide and deflect attention, I’m especially proud that Herbst is being so open and honest about who she is–and what she believes. It gives us all hope.