By all accounts Derek Lundgren was a difficult person to know. His friend, Ranae Johnson said. “I did not like Derek. He was just real standoffish, not very friendly and hard to get to know. I guess knowing what I know now, there was a shell there. He was just very unhappy inside.”
“He was very selfless but could tell there was some depression, almost. He was just sad … it was just an effect on his overall personality.” Said friend, Danielle D’Ulisse.
As Danielle Lundgren puts it, Derek was an ass. He was “jaded, cold — literally sometimes, cruel,” she said.
Danielle Lundgren used to be known as Derek. He spent decades hiding who he truly was. Two years ago he decided to stop hiding and began living as her true self.
As a child Danielle recalled climbing out of the bathtub, wrapping herself up in a towel and pretending it was “a nice, beautiful dress.” She remembered using a towel. to mimic long hair. She asked to wear a nightgown and when grandma refused, she would put on one of grandpa’s old T-shirts and pretend.
“For the first time, I can look in the mirror — even when I get out of bed, and my hair’s all ratty and messy — and I can go, ‘There she is,’ ” Danielle said. “That’s who I’m supposed to be.”
Derek was, by all accounts, a man’s man. He was married three times to three different women. He worked for the Bonneville County Sheriff’s office for over 12 years as a Field Training Officer, SWAT Team member, detective, a teacher for the Emergency Vehicle and Operations course, and a motorcycle officer.
“He was a good officer and did very well,” said former sheriff Byron Stommel. “I had no complaints about him.”
Derek kept his gender identity hidden from his work and personal life, not even having a word to frame his narrative. This changed 15 years ago, when Derek got home internet access.
Daniel recalls: “I just knew there was something,” she said. “But I didn’t have the definition … I knew people talked about cross-dressing and drag queens, but none of those fit — those things were done for entertainment, and what I felt was not an entertainment situation, it was a legitimate ‘I’m in the wrong body.’ So when I came across the term ‘transgender’ it was just like a light bulb. Like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ An epiphany, almost.”
Once he was able to put a word to his feelings he came out to his wife and began researching hormone therapy and adding feminine touches to his clothing. He hoped these small changes would help with his desire to be feminine.
He began taking low doses of hormones, hoping that would “help calm things from the inside.” That didn’t work, either. He spiraled into depression and began contemplating suicide. He decided that there was only one thing to do:
In May of 2013 Derek, now Danielle, posted a “coming out” post on Facebook. She fully expected to lose most of her friends and lose her job at the Sheriff’s Department.
“What I was shocked by, was, the absolute outpouring of support,” she said. “I didn’t get one negative comment.”
Danielle began the lengthy process — mental and psychological evaluations, legal paperwork and other things — shortly after coming out. She also discussed her situation with her supervisors at work.
“Let’s face it, first, I am the very first person in Bonneville County … to make the full legal, lawful transition,” Danielle said. “Then, I was the only out cop in the state of Idaho. I mean wow, that’s a huge thing. We had agencies from all over, contacting us, basically saying, ‘we’re going to sit back and watch — we want to observe what’s going to happen and how things go.”
Hoping to make the process as “as positive as possible for everybody” and smooth the way for any who might follow in her footsteps, she made some suggestions: the bathrooms in the county courthouse were changed from gender-specific to non-gender specific.
18 December, 2013, in a courthouse, ex-wife and oldest son with her, she left Derek behind and became Danielle. People she had known for years gave her hugs and handshakes and the judge–long known to her–slammed the gavel and Derek was no more.
“That was it — I was Danielle,” she said. “At that moment, I was born, I can be me. No one else can take it away from me, no one can make me have to go back.”
She returned to work January 2014 and noticed an immediate difference in the way some people treated her. It was easy to tell who supported her and who didn’t.
“The passive-aggressiveness, people not wanting to say ‘hi’ to you anymore, people not wanting to even acknowledge your existence or work on the same case as you,” she said. “You’re treated kind of like you have the plague.”
Along with loss there came a new network of friends and support. She volunteers at events in Idaho Falls and has spoken publicly about her experience on multiple occasions
Spring 2014, she shared her experience gender transitioning before lawmakers in Boise on the “Add the Words” bill which, sadly, did not make it out of committee. She also testified before the Idaho Falls City Council on their Non-Discrimination Ordinance in 2013.
“When I first came out, my whole thought at the time was just to live a normal, quiet life,” Danielle said. “I didn’t want to be into advocacy, or be seen as people’s role model … but (eventually) it was like, ‘How the hell can I not get involved?’ The more I thought about it, the more I just had to tell my story. Because there are so many people just like us that kind of fly under the radar … and by doing so, we do ourselves an injustice.”
Danielle quit her job in law enforcement earlier this year stating: “Derek was the cop.” She plans on going to school and becoming a therapist.
“I don’t go around begging for attention, putting on a show and carrying this big flag that says ‘Hey look at me, this is who I am,’ ” she said. “All I want to do is live my life and be treated with the respect that I earn as a productive member of society — as a normal woman. Because that’s what I am.”