The Texas town of New Hope sits roughly 40 miles outside of Dallas. It’s home to 630 residents. Arguably, becoming the mayor of such an insignificant municipality would never be viewed as a big deal. But for Jess Herbst, the role is a historic first.
Herbst is officially Texas’ first transgender mayor, though she’s quick to clarify that she wasn’t elected to the role. In a January 31 Facebook post, she explained how she got there.
“Last year I ran for my alderman seat, a seat that also included road commissioner and mayor pro-tem,” she said. “The mayor suffered a heart attack after the cutoff for filing for election and passed away days before the election.” The previous mayor still won the election, but due to his untimely passing, Texas law forced the town to choose a new mayor. As the most experienced alderman in town, active since 2003, Herbst was a shoe-in.
At the time of her May appointment, she hadn’t come out as transgender. That all changed on January 31 when she posted an open letter on New Hope’s official website.
She wrote, “As your Mayor I must tell you about something that has been with me since my earliest memories. I am Transgender.” She briefly detailed her two-year journey and shared how supportive her family had been.
“I live my life as a female now, and I will be performing my duties as such.” At the monthly town council meeting that took place later that evening, a packed house was on hand to let Herbst know she was supported.
The New York Times reports that response to Herbst’s coming out has been almost entirely positive. She received only three negative messages—a sign of hope for a small town in Texas.
Texas is at the center of the national conversation about transgender rights. It’s legal to discriminate against trans men and women in the state. And just this past January, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick introduced SB6—another bathroom bill.
To see this level of acceptance in a small town in a conservative state is promising. Herbst is willing to give people time to adjust, however. At the time of the New York Times article, she was still listed as Jeff Herbst on the town’s website. That has since been changed. She seems aware that an adjustment period is needed for residents.
The ACLU told the Times, “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.”
In her open letter, Herbst directed residents to her personal website, jessherbst.com, where they could get an inside look at her decision to transition and her new life as a woman. There, a photo diary of the last two years offers a highly personal glimpse into her life as well as her detailed story.
The first Texas trans mayor is a big step in the right direction. Next, we need trans officials in higher ranking roles and so on and so forth. Trans issues will stay on the national agenda if we’re there to champion them.