On January 23, 2017, Jess Herbst became the first openly-trans elected official in Texas.
When the former mayor died of a heart attack in May 2016, Herbst was the longest running alderman in the tiny McKinney suburb of New Hope. At the time, she was known as Jeff Herbst. Because of Herbst’s longtime service to the city, she was unanimously voted in as mayor by her fellow council members.
In an open letter to her constituents, Herbst explained in January 2017 that she had begun transitioning two years before being named mayor, with the support of her family. While it was not her intention to rise to her position, Herbst told the community that she planned to carry out her duties as mayor, but as the woman she’d always been inside rather than the man that her community had known and loved for so many years.
While Herbst anticipated backlash from her decision to out herself, what she received from the tiny conservative-leaning town was love and support.
Herbst explained her decision to come out, saying, “You have to be honest if you are going to be in a place in public office.”
In addition to serving as her town’s mayor, Herbst has been fighting for civil liberties on behalf of trans individuals living in Texas, including protesting and testifying in Austin regarding Texas’ contentious transgender bathroom legislation.
Herbst has become a trans celebrity, especially among transgender individuals who want to run for office. She is now mentoring other trans political candidates as part of a position on the advisory board of the Trans United Fund, which offers support to trans candidates or those who are in favor of transgender-friendly policies.
Since Herbst announced her identity in January, over 20 transgender candidates have announced runs for elected office, based on data collected by Harvard research analyst Logan S. Casey, PhD.
When she was first named mayor, Herbst considered resigning the role because she knew that her transition would come out eventually. Soon, however, she found out that her tiny town’s government had been mismanaged, so walking away would mean that it would be left a mess. Faced with the decision to fight or flee, Herbst chose to fight, both for her town and for her identity.
Because of that decision, Herbst has forever changed the landscape of Texas politics.