FRISCO, Colo. (AP) — On the morning of April 12, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office called a mandatory staff-wide meeting in the largest courtroom at the justice center in Breckenridge. Employees from the District Attorney’s Office came as well, along with probation staff and court clerks.
Few in the room knew the reason for the unprecedented gathering of the entire Summit County Justice Center campus. Some mistakenly thought there might be an announcement about raises.
“The sheriff asked everyone, ’Hey I’ve heard there are some rumors about why we’re here today, does anybody want to share one?’” recalled the sheriff’s operations commander and SWAT leader, Lesley Mumford. “Devin, my 7-year-old-son, raises his hand, stands up on his chair and says, ‘Because my mom’s going to tell you she’s transgender.’”
At the time, most of the people in the room knew her as Wesley, a 13-year veteran of the sheriff’s office. With that announcement — carefully planned over four months — Mumford took the final step in a long-awaited gender transition.
“Leading up to the professional announcement, that’s what scared me the most,” she said. “At the immediate conclusion of it, I realized that it was actually probably the easiest step.”
For Mumford and her wife of 12 years, Sarah, the sense of relief was overwhelming.
“We got married in 2005, and I had an idea early on that she had these feelings,” Sarah said. “Now that Lesley can live as her true self and be her true self, she’s happier and we’re all happier. It’s been an amazing journey, and it’s definitely made our marriage stronger. I’m so proud of Lesley for being herself and I’m so proud to be her wife.”
Lesley said she had struggled with her gender identity since adolescence, when she was growing up in a small town in Michigan. During her college years at Colorado State University, she developed more of a vocabulary for her feelings.
“Gender is a two-way street,” she explained. “People make assumptions about you based on what they perceive your gender to be, and it was the information that was coming in to me from others that was in conflict with the way I felt.”
Mumford entered law enforcement in 2004 after several years as a park ranger. She doesn’t think it was a conscious decision, but in retrospect, she says, the uniformity imposed by a law enforcement career provided a way to hide from and suppress her feelings.
Inevitably, however, stifling such an integral component of her identity took its toll.
“I absolutely struggled with depression and confusion,” she said. “There’s a constant dissonance that transgender people experience. The way that you understand yourself as being and the way the world sees you are in conflict, so there’s a constant internal dialogue trying to make sense of that.”
By 2014, she had decided to begin her transition in earnest, seeking therapy and over time telling family members and close friends. Coming out at work and in the community, however, loomed so large that Sarah and Lesley were considering leaving everything and starting over in the anonymity of Denver.
Last year, however, the Summit County government unexpectedly added language about gender identity and expression to its equal employment opportunity policy.
“When they made that announcement I went home to Sarah and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, look at what the county did,’” she recalled. “I was ready to walk away from all of this, but that move the county made compelled us to stay here and be part of this community.”
In January, Mumford scheduled a meeting with Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons. After going over some routine business, she dove into discussing her transition, a conversation that lasted about three hours.
“I was both humbled and honored,” FitzSimons said. “I was humbled that she had such courage to do that and honored that she wanted to do it on my watch. The response from our staff was incredible.”
Mumford said that none of the negative consequences she feared for so many years materialized, and her transition has instead enriched her life immeasurably.
“So many peoples’ stories don’t go the way mine has gone,” she said. “But I want people to know that it is possible to be transgender and find love, be a parent and have a rewarding career with goals and dreams like everyone else has. There was a time in my life when I didn’t think I could.”