In May, 2016, Alderman Jeff Herbst was appointed mayor of New Hope, Texas—just outside Dallas—following the sudden death of the town's previous executive.
This week, Herbst penned an open letter the citizens of New Hope to tell them that "Jeff" was now "Jess," and that she was, in fact, transgender. In doing so, Herbst is believed to be the first known trans official in Texas history—a historic milestone in what's commonly thought of as a deeply conservative state.
"As your Mayor I must tell you about something that has been with me since my earliest memories," Herbst explained. "I am Transgender."
In her letter, she describes the support she's felt by her wife and two daughters, and cites Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox as having helped make a space for more and more people to be public about their gender identities.
"I live my life as a female now," she wrote. "And I will be performing my duties to the town as such."
In addition to saying that she was relatively unbothered by which pronoun people might use with her ("I expect people to take time to make the change.") Herbst also directed her constituents to her personal website, which has been documenting her transition for several years. There she writes about the experience of coming out as trans to her friends, family, and coworkers, saying in one post that her colleagues' "immediate acceptance and overall enthusiasm [was] startling," and adding that "the very next day HR was happy to update my name and photo for myID badge. I have not been back in male disguises since."
In another post, Herbst decried the spate of anti-trans "bathroom bills" cropping up across the country. "The public needs to see the farce in these laws," she explained.
Herbst's announcing her transgender identity takes an added air of significance, given Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and other state officials' ongoing efforts to marginalize the trans community.
"I’m happy that our society is progressing to the point that she can feel empowered to come out and be her true self in public office, knowing that she will continue to be welcomed and valued for her skills and capabilities," Gaither said.
While Mayor Herbst was not available to speak for this story, her letter encouraged the community to reach out with any questions or comments about her announcement, and invited residents to attend New Hope's Monthly Town Council meetings on the last Tuesday of every month.