Back again

I know, I know. This blog has been neglected for too long. Well, I’m back and I have a years worth of experiences to share.

When I last blogged I was the lucky recipient of the Bohnett Fellowship, a great honor bestowed on me by the LGBTQ Victory institute, sending me to Harvard university’s John F. Kennedy school of Government.

Stories from there? Of course, but today I want to talk about a more recent adventure, again thanks to Victory, Bogota Colombia.

I would like to invite you to join an influential group of U.S. LGBTQ advocates, corporate leaders, and policymakers on a special trip to Bogota, Colombia” the email began.


Bogota?, Bogota!” Alexandria exclaimed, questioningly. “ It’s a trick, they just want to get you down there so they can kill you” . I love that my daughter is always looking out for my safety, and now also wanting to ensure her daughter grows up with her Gigi (me). 

I’ll admit that I also shared an outdated view of Colombia. Thoughts of ‘Romancing the Stone” and ‘Narcos' came to mind. But I trusted Victory, and they were sending Annise Parker, their CEO and former Houston Mayor too, so it had to be safe, right?

An early morning flight to Miami, then on to Bogota found me in line at Colombian immigration. I approach the agent, a man in his mid 40’s. He looks at me and asks the standard question “are you here on business or pleasure?” , “Well, I’m here for a conference” I reply. Without batting an eye, he asks “You are here for the LGBT conference?” I respond “Yes”.

This strikes me as a bit odd as Bogota is a city of almost 10 million population and surely there are many, many conferences going on. Then of course, my brain tells me that I am an obvious transgender woman, but still how did he know about the conference?

My passport is still in my hand as he looks at his computer screen and asks ‘Are you Jess Herbst?’

Now I’m really confused, I know there is no way he personally knew who I am, so what was on that computer screen? I brace myself for the worst.

Jess at Customs.jpg

Now he takes my passport and asks where I am staying, a standard immigration question. I give him the name of my hotel and he looks confused. “That is not the hotel the conference is being held” he replys in a confused tone.

I start to explain that my hotel was arranged by the Victory institute, but again his computer screen seems to provide the answer, “Oh I see you are scheduled to meet with congress,  your hotel is much closer to El Capitolio Nacional de Colombia” Switching to a thick Spanish at the end of his sentence.

He then stamped my passport with a smile, welcomed me to his country and wished me a pleasant stay.

Off I go to find my ride and explore a fascinating city.

I have since given this incident much thought and am pretty sure I can explain most of it.  Because I was scheduled to spend time inside the national congress building, I had to provide my passport information well in advance. This, I think, accounts for the computer screen with my name, probably my passport photo and the information about my appointment with the congress.

But the fact that I was also attending an LGBTQ Political leadership conference was not something I’d shared. Maybe the powers that be just made the assumption, maybe the immigration agent was LGBTQ himself and knew of the conference, I’m still unsure.

Looking back, it was a very pleasant experience and one that will long be remembered. I’m also aware that as comfortable with my womanhood, there is still that little panic voice lurking in my head. It’s always seeking the opportunity to say “See, they know you are Trans”.

 But fortunately, I don’t care anymore, I love who I am, and that’s what really matters.