Minneapolis City Council member Andrea Jenkins is proud to be the first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in the U.S. But it's public service itself that gives the longtime city official and activist a sense of purpose.
"It's really a great honor to be included in those categories, but even more so to be able to sit in the Minneapolis City Council and represent my community on matters that are important to them and try to help people have better lives," Jenkins told Cheddar.
Jenkins is no political rookie. She worked as a staff member and policy aide for the Minneapolis City Council for 12 years before leaving City Hall briefly to focus on writing and activism.
She curated the Transgender Oral History Project for the University of Minnesota's Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies. The project compiled the stories of trans and gender non-conforming people in the upper Midwest.
Her poetry collection, The T is Not Silent: new and selected poems, about the plight and invisibility of the trans community, came out around the same time.
Jenkins decided to run for City Council in 2016 and was elected in 2018 along with Phillipe Cunningham, who is one of the first openly transgender men to be elected to public office.
Since then, she's helped pass a local ban on conversion therapy after the Minnesota state legislature failed to agree on the language for a statewide ban.
However, Jenkins isn't focused solely on LGBTQ issues though. The elected official has embraced her mandate to serve all of Minneapolis' needs.
"I've worked with different jurisdictions, the state government, the county government, seeking ways to end homelessness, to increase educational opportunities, to make sure that our roads and bridges are up to speed, to keep our eye focused on economic development, and to center communities of color in those conversations always," Jenkins said.
Jenkins' answer to solving the problem of violence against transgender people also encompasses broad-based economic policies.
"We stop this violence through creating more opportunities for trans and gender non-conforming people to have access to housing, to have access to full employment, to have opportunities for people to be a part of society," Jenkins said.
The lack of access to these resources and opportunities, she added, forces trans-people to the margins of society, where they are more likely to be exploited or threatened.
Looking beyond local politics, Jenkins cautiously voiced her support for Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar in the presidential election, though she said her personal choice was still an open question.
"We need a new president, so I will be supporting whoever is nominated in that process, whether it's Bernie Sanders, Mike Bloomberg, or whoever else," she said.