If local politics is the means through which the people will reclaim the power that supposedly belongs to them, then the election of Andrea Jenkins to the Minneapolis City Council is the signal of good things to come.
Andrea Jenkins rose to the office of Minneapolis City Council in the November 2017 elections. Jenkins is a transgender woman who won office on the heels of the transphobic movements of 2016 that aimed to exclude transgender and gender-nonconforming people from using public bathrooms that matched their gender identities. Jenkins’s victory, with about 73% of the vote, made her the first openly transgender Black woman to win a public office in the United States. (Phillipe Cunningham, a Black transgender man, has also won a seat on the Minneapolis City Council in the same election.) Jenkins is also an accomplished poet and activist.
But Jenkins’s success didn’t happen overnight.
Before reaching national prominence by winning a local election, she went back to school to study for a Bachelors Degrees in Human Services from Metropolitan State University after turning thirty. She quickly followed up that achievement with a MFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University and a Masters Degree in Community Development from Southern New Hampshire University.
Jenkins started as a vocational counselor for the Hennepin County government and received promotions over the period of a decade. Later, she had been directly involved in Minneapolis City Council as a policy aid to Council Member Elizabeth Glidden for nine years and Council Member Robert Lilligren for three years.
Through the Transgender Issues Work Group, a 2014 collaboration between members of Minneapolis City Council and other branches of government, Jenkins successfully worked to create protections for transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. One of these protections included the right to use the bathroom that matches an individual’s gender. Another accomplishment is that the group established new sensitivity training for Minneapolis police.
She has done much outside of public service to improve her surroundings, too.
Jenkins served as the Oral Historian for the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection for LGBT Studies at the University of Minnesota’s Oral History Project from 2015 to late 2017/early 2018. In an interview with Splinter, she said of the project, “We had a whole lot of information about white gay males [in the collection]… Less about lesbian culture. We had much much much less about bi culture, even though that has been growing, but we had literally nothing about the transgender community.” This left a clear void for her to fill by orchestrating the collection of over 194 transgender and gender-nonconforming people’s experiences over a period of over three years. As of March 24, 2018, over fifty videos and transcripts are available online.
In the historical election, Jenkins ran on a platform that centers equity in public safety, transportation, the environment, affordable housing, the arts, and in access to democracy, many issues that her work for Glidden and Lilligren touched upon. As of now, Ward 8, the district she represents, has plans and projects that are clearly focused on each of those issues, except for public safety. But it has only been two months since Jenkins began her work as a council member, so it is too soon to assume that all plans have been fully developed.
Jenkins once said that transgender minority women have been relegated to “the margins of the margins” of society. Her victory and her work may offer a path through which this can change.