Andrea Jenkins on Her Remarkable Year Making and Preserving Trans History

The first black, openly trans woman in US history to win elected office also spent 2017 spearheading the University of Minnesota's Transgender Oral History Project.

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Dec 18 2017, 4:54pm

Photo courtesy of Andrea Jenkins

You Know Who Rules? is Broadly's December interview series highlighting women and non-binary people who accomplished incredible things during the dumpster fire of a year that was 2017.

This past Election Day was an historic one for transgender candidates. While Danica Roemcaptured the nation's focus with her victory over one of the south's most anti-LGBTQ state legislators, as many as eight other trans people were elected nationwide. Among them was Andrea Jenkins, the first black, openly trans woman in US history to win elected office.

Not only did Jenkins win a Minneapolis City Council seat—she'll also be joined in office by Phillipe Cunningham, the first black trans man to win elected office in the country. Jenkins also spent much of her year spearheading the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota, which collected primary source materials about the Upper Midwest trans community.

Broadly had the chance to speak with Jenkins about her groundbreaking election win and what's in store for her in 2018.

BROADLY: What are you most proud of accomplishing in 2017?
ANDREA JENKINS: I’m extremely proud to have successfully completed the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota in that we were able to finish it up ahead of time. It is the largest oral history of its kinda centering transgender and gender nonconforming people. It’s an incredible accomplishment.

While all of that was happening, I was running a successful City Council campaign, which was equally successful, so it’s hard to say which one is the biggest. I think the City Council race, clearly, appeals to a broader set of people and will impact a broader range of people. I guess the biggest accomplishment is that I made it through 2017, I think we all can give ourselves a hand in that. It’s been an incredibly disappointing year.

What issues will you emphasize as a City Council member?

I’m planning on focusing early and deeply on race equity issues, which translate into a broad range of topics, from affordable housing, police accountability, public safety, and environmental justice. We’re going to be talking about how we can support small businesses and really focus attention on women- and people of color-owned businesses and other groups of marginalized communities. So that’s the plan and that hasn’t changed very much.

The city of Minneapolis made history this last election cycle, not only with your election but Cunningham’s as well. What is it about your city that made those wins possible?
I think for a long time, Minneapolis has prided itself on being a progressive community with progressive politics. It’s a pretty strong blue city. We have a history of electing progressive leaders for a long time. There’s a large LGBT community in Minneapolis, percentage wise. And I think people have become much more sensible and really—not only tolerating, but lifting up and celebrating LGBT members of our community. Minnesota was the first state to defeat a constitutional amendment to ban marriage [equality] after 34 states had enacted it, and then was the first state to legislatively enact same sex marriage, before the United States Supreme Court [ruled on it]. People really focus on the issues as opposed to identity.

What inspired you to get into electoral politics in the first place?
I worked in government for a long time. I spent 10 years working for Hampton County, which regulates public assistance, the hospitals, the jails, the various entities and agencies that seem to deeply really impact people’s lives, particularly people of color. I was a vocational counselor, so I was helping young moms and families getting off of welfare and get back to work and get into schools and all these kinds of things and I kept seeing the same people over and over and over. I was just like, "How can we make changes in the system and policies that can help to address these issues so that it doesn’t just continue to be this vicious cycle of the same people coming through a revolving door?"

[After going back to graduate school and getting hired by a City Council member], I recognized that as a way to effect positive change from a policy standpoint. I did that work for 12 years total and I got to know a lot of the players. The work that I was doing in the City Council office, I was representing the community that I actually live in. So I got to know these people, I got to know the issues, the movers and the shakers in the community and got to understand what it was that people wanted to see… And the rest, as they say, is history.

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What’s in store for you in 2018?
I’m going to be literally trying to learn my job as well as focusing on doing my job but I think a part of the work, too, is we have to help progressive candidates win elections in 2018. We have to take back the House here in Minnesota, we must win the governor’s seat and we need to be having Democrats win all over the country so we can take back the House and the Senate in DC.

We’re going to have two senate races in Minnesota (thanks to Senator Franken’s resignation) and that hasn’t happened since 1975 or something like...it hasn’t happened in a long time. So that’s kind of a big deal. There’s going to be a lot of outside political work that I’m going to be engaged in in helping to elect positive progressive Democrats to office. A lot of work in 2018.