Politician, writer, artist, and activist. Making history as the first African American openly trans woman to be elected to office in the United States.
Featured lessonCelebrating and Defending Trans and Non-Binary Lives
Born in 1961, Andrea Jenkins was raised on Chicago’s West Side by a single mother from a working-class community. Her father battled addiction and was incarcerated through much of her childhood, but her mother was loving and emphasized the importance of a good education.
Jenkins discovered literature and poetry at a young age, along with Black history, Black culture, and the 1960s Black arts movement. She began writing in her mid-teens and has contributed to and authored acclaimed volumes of poetry dealing with issues of race, social justice, sexuality, and gender—though rarely addressing her own gender. At 18, Jenkins moved to Minneapolis for university and lived in male dorms, continuing to hide what she knew to be her true self. The campus was overwhelmingly populated by white students, and it was a culture shock, from the racial stereotyping she experienced to the stark differences in resources.
Jenkins worked as a vocational counselor for Minnesota’s Hennepin County government for a decade and served as a staff member on the Minneapolis City Council for 12 years. At age 30, Jenkins transitioned and began to outwardly present as female. She then began work as curator of the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota’s Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies—the largest LGBTQ+ archive in the upper Midwest.
In 2016, Jenkins announced her run for Minneapolis’ 8th Ward on the City Council with the campaign slogan, “Leadership. Access. Equity.” On November 7, 2017, she won with more than 70 percent of the vote and was elected vice president of the council by her fellow council members shortly after her election. She has also served as chair of the new Race Equity Subcommittee and helped create a Racial Equity Community Advisory Committee consisting of city residents.
The 8th Ward that Jenkins represents includes the intersection where George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, 2020. She initially supported abolishment of the Minneapolis Police Department but later decided, following a wave of shootings, to support having police do their job to “serve and protect” the community. And by focusing on efforts to create more schools, housing, and other services in Minneapolis, she hoped to help her constituents turn away from crime and violence.
Jenkins holds a master’s in community development from Southern New Hampshire University, an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and a bachelor’s in human services from Metropolitan State University. In 2018, she completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government program at Harvard University.
In June 2020, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first LGBTQ+ Pride parade, the online magazine Queerty named Andrea Jenkins among the 50 heroes “leading the nation toward equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people.”
“It’s more than just having a seat at the table. It’s having a seat at the table and being able to speak to power.”
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