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Texas' Only Openly Transgender Mayor On Critics: 'That's What The Delete Button Is For'

Jess Herbst
New Hope Mayor Jess Herbst.

Jess Herbst drew an international spotlight to the tiny Collin County town of New Hope when she came out as the first openly transgender mayor in Texas. She describes the reaction as overwhelmingly positive. Of the few hateful reactions, she says, "That's what the delete button is for."


Interview Highlights: Jess Herbst...

...on what the last two weeks have been like:

"It's obviously been a whirlwind of media attention. I had no idea that people would be interested in me as far away, really, I thought maybe McKinney. But it's gone a little past that. I've heard people from all over the world and I've done interviews in Australia, Canada, Ireland — it's really been wonderful. The attention has been great for the transgender community."


...on reaction in New Hope, population 631:


"The people of New Hope have been absolutely wonderful. In all fairness, they've known me for quite some time. I've lived there since 1999, I've been on the council since 2003. So everybody knew who I was, what I was about, I wasn't too worried that they were going to be upset. I felt like they would at least be pretty even keeled, but they went overboard. I had one gentleman write me a letter and said, 'I am proud to live in a town that would have a mayor like you.' And, boy, that just kind of gets to you when you get those kind of things."


...on the hateful responses:


"I've gotten a few, not very many. It's running several 1,000-to-1 at this point. And you know what? That's what the delete button is for when you get an email like that."


...on what she'd say to legislators debating the "bathroom bill" in Austin:


"My experience exploring my transgenderness, to actually becoming Jess, has been one of amazing acceptance, and no one is afraid of me. The bills we have right now portray us in a very bad light. They almost, they don't say exactly that we're predators, but they kind of indicate that we're predators. And we're not. We're just human beings, and my experience being out and about in Collin County, in McKinney, in Plano, in the city of Dallas -- the general public's response to me has been one of, 'Oh, there's another person,' you know? They're just like everyone else.


...on her reaction to the political debate:


"Well, obviously angry. This whole bathroom bill is such a red herring. It's billed as protecting women. They never consider the fact that they're going to put trans men into the bathrooms because they don't seem to understand that trans men exist.


"They also never address the issue that there's never been a problem. We've been going to the bathroom since the dawn of time, it's not like transgender appeared last year. Where does he [Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick] think we've been going to the bathroom all this time?


"Lastly, the real thing that sticks me in my craw: It's already against the law. There is protection for people from getting attacked anywhere. Whether it's a bathroom or whatever. It's against the law to do that. They're not adding any protection whatsoever to anyone. All they're doing is adding the ability to discriminate against transgender people."


...on the challenge for her wife and two daughters:


"It really wasn't a challenge to either of them. I've been married for 36 years and my wife has known of this. Neither one of us knew what transgender was in 1978 when we started dating, but she's known of this since before we married — and she still married me. We've grown with this and learned with this. It's been an experience that the two of us have shared over the last 36 years. Both my daughters are some of my biggest advocates, they kind of wear it like a badge of pride. They're always telling people, "My dad is transgender." And you couldn't ask for anything better than that."


...on her parents:


"Well, my parents passed away about 10 and 12 years ago, so they have no idea. Our last conversation about this happened back in 1969 and so much of the world has changed and so much of the attitudes of the world have changed. I would have loved to have been able to say, 'Look, here's what has been going on with me all along. We didn't understand it in 1969 but here's the facts now.' I would've been interested to see how they would take it now."


...on what's surprised her most about this process of going public:


"Just the sheer amount of interest in it. I'm just one person in a tiny little town, and people all over the world have responded to me. It seems overwhelming that so many people seem so interested in this. This is the trend that the human race is going through. We're learning to accept everybody as human beings and quit putting labels on everything. It's inevitable, I was the first, but I'm certainly not going to be the last or the only."

Gus Contreras is a digital producer and reporter at KERA News. Gus produces the local All Things Considered segment and reports on a variety of topics from, sports to immigration. He was an intern and production assistant for All Things Considered in Washington D.C.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.