She Is the First Trans Mayor in Texas, and She Is Fighting for Equality
“Don’t give up and don’t go back into hiding.”
Around the world, fewer than one-quarter of lawmakers are women — an imbalance in representation that affects how laws are crafted and passed and how equality is created in societies. Global Citizen’s series, “Who Run The Gov? Girls!” chronicles the massive uptick in women running for office, regardless of political party, in the US and around the world, highlighting the candidates and the groups helping them to run, the challenges they face, advice & tips for running, and the results.
Jess Herbst started off 2017 in the spotlight.
The mayor of New Hope, Texas, has spent a life in politics; she has led protests, testified before the Senate and the House, and has worked with numerous human rights organizations.
And in January of this year, she became the first openly transgender mayor in Texas.
“As your Mayor I must tell you about something that has been with me since my earliest memories. I am Transgender,” Herbst wrote in a letter posted to the New Hope town website just days before Donald Trump’s inauguration, making international news headlines.
Although she came out just before the inauguration of a president who would later announce a ban on transgender military personnel, Herbst told Global Citizen the political atmosphere had nothing to do with the timing of her letter. Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the global goals, including Global Goal No. 5 on gender equality.
“I was not basing anything on the president at that point; I was just trying to make sure my letter was out there in enough time before the January  town meeting. By the November  meeting, I had already told most of the council members. It [the announcement] was already in motion before election. I was just carrying with the momentum.”
Herbst has been a part of New Hope politics for 14 years, serving as alderman, road commissioner, mayor pro-tem, and now mayor—all of which are unpaid, volunteer positions.
When asked about the town’s response, she says overall everyone was respectful and supportive. There may have been a few mistakes in using her correct pronouns, but no one acted with malice.
One of the longest New Hope council meetings I remember tonight. Lots of issues to work through, having a trans Mayor was not one of them.— Jess Herbst (@_JessHerbst) March 29, 2017
Herbst also made sure her letter clarified that the announcement changes nothing about her dedicated public service to the town.
“I live my life as a female now, and I will be performing my duties to the town as such,” she wrote.
True to her word, Herbst has not only kept up with her responsibilities as mayor, she also sits on the advisory board for the Trans United Fund and has become an outspoken voice against Texas’ anti-trans bathroom law.
The Trans United Fund, the first organization of its kind, fights against anti-LGBTQ laws and provides endorsement and funding for political candidates who show a dedication to the transgender community.
“We are not looking for just trans people,” Herbst told Global Citizen. “We are looking for people who push forward our goals of human rights.”
The organization contacted Herbst, who was already a member of the organization, after she came out and requested her presence on their advisory board.
According to Herbst, the Fund is currently endorsing Danica Roem, who is running for the Virginia House of Delegates, multiple Illinois school board members, and some Minnesota city council members, just to name a few.
Herbst’s activism continues through her dedication to dismantle the anti-trans bathroom bill, which prevents people from using bathrooms that correspond to their gender. Instead, they are forced to use bathrooms that matches the sex listed on their birth certificate.
The legislation has stalled in the House, and discussions on the bill have not even started. Herbst hopes that the bill will die in the House, meaning it will not become law because it was voted down or not voted on at all.
Whatever the outcome in the House, Herbst will continue fighting for justice.
“The bathroom bill has become my issue, and I am doing everything I can do to block it,” she says.
We are united, we have rights, we are equals. pic.twitter.com/ug1Ae9Hg6q— Jess Herbst (@_JessHerbst) March 10, 2017
While the bill waits in the House, Herbst’s attention has been directed toward a more recent issue: Trump’s Tweet announcing a ban on transgender people in the US military.
The week prior to speaking with Global Citizen, Herbst says she had multiple interview requests, including a televised interview with BBC, regarding the ban.
Herbst says that she and other LGBTQ officials who are coming out are breaking stereotypes and dispelling “the idea that it [coming out] won’t go well” as she says such notions are “mostly in our own heads.”
Herbst says reporters swarmed the town in the weeks following her letter’s posting, and even now at least one reporter is present at town meetings. But, in general, the townspeople did not have to deal with the media bombardment Herbst faced; for which she is thankful.
In terms of dealing with the publicity herself, Herbst simply says, “you have to swallow it and go on and do what you have to do. You just get used to what happens.”
Although Herbst says she was not expecting her coming out to be quite as public as it was, with the letter going viral in days, she finds that it actually was a “silver lining.”
“After transitioning, some people want to forget about their past, and they are scared of the exposure. So it's kind of a relief to know there is nothing secret. I’ve been on papers around the world. It alleviate fears because I do not have a choice,” she said.
When dealing with the unexpected outcome of her letter Herbst says she adjusted herself to the situation. But when speaking on political activism, her words take on a more resilient tone.
Herbst’s parting words in her Global Citizen interview were directed at LGBTQ youth, NGOs, and political activists who may feel their voices are not being heard and their rights dismantled.
“Don’t give up and don’t go back into hiding. We have made great progress. There are things we can do to stop this. And we need everyone, anyone in the LGBTQ+ community to have a bigger voice, because that bigger voice will change things.”
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