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Andrea Jenkins, a Transgender Trailblazer

Andrea Jenkins is a name that resonates with those who are passionate about LGBTQ+ rights, social justice, and equality. She is a trailblazer who has dedicated her life to making a difference in the world, fighting for the rights of marginalized communities, and using her platform to uplift those who are often silenced.

She is a Black transgender woman who has faced countless challenges throughout her life. Despite the obstacles, she has never let her identity or the adversity she has faced hold her back. Ready to get to know her better? Let’s get started.

Childhood and Education

Andrea Jenkins was born in 1961 and raised by her mother in the North Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. Her father battled addiction and spent much of her childhood in prison.

Despite this, her mother emphasized the importance of education, and Jenkins spent weekends at her grandparents’ house in a middle-class African American neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, which exposed her to different experiences and informed her life.

Andrea Jenkins on Storied: Queer Voices, Part 3
Youtube – @minnesotahistory

She attended the University of Minnesota, an overwhelmingly white school at the time, in 1979. She experienced racial stereotyping and was shocked by the differences in resources and access between white and non-white students.

She lived in male dorms and eventually joined a fraternity, but was outed by a fraternity brother and expelled from the house. She returned to Chicago, where she worked on Harold Washington’s successful mayoral campaign in 1983.

Marriage and Family

In her mid-20s, she got married to a woman and together they had a daughter. Jenkins has described her daughter as the absolute love of her life. However, later in life, Jenkins came to the realization that she was a transgender woman and that she couldn’t continue hiding her true self.

Andrea Jenkins
Youtube – @MNoriginal

She felt that in order to thrive in life, she needed to accept who she truly was and come out to her loved ones. Jenkins went through a divorce and began her transition at the age of 30.

Despite going through a significant personal transformation, she remains close to her daughter and continues to be a devoted mother. Her daughter’s presence in her life has been a source of love and support throughout her journey as a poet, artist, community historian, and public official.

Coming out as Bisexual and then Trans

She returned to Chicago, where she worked on Harold Washington’s successful mayoral campaign in 1983. She later came out as bisexual and, at age 30, began her transition to a trans woman while working as a vocational counselor for Hennepin County.

She completed her B.A. in Human Services from Metropolitan State University at age 38 and went on to earn an M.A. in Community Development from Southern New Hampshire University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University.

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Early Career

Her career is multifaceted and spans various fields, including politics, poetry, and activism. Jenkins began her professional life as a vocational counselor for Hennepin County, a role she held for over a decade. During that time, she also worked on several political campaigns, including the successful mayoral campaign of Harold Washington, the first African American mayor of Chicago.

Her involvement in these campaigns laid the groundwork for her future political career. In 2001, she worked on the campaign of Minneapolis City Council candidate Robert Liligren, and she later became one of his staffers. In 2005, she was hired as a policy aide by City Council member Elizabeth Gidden, where she continued to work until 2017.

Transgender Advocacies and Work

While working for Gidden, Jenkins won the 2011 Bush Fellowship, which is dedicated to transgender issues, and helped establish the Transgender Issues Work Group.

Andrea Jenkins at TEDx Minneapolis
Youtube – @TEDx

She also organized a City Council summit on transgender equality and the challenges facing the transgender community in Minnesota in 2014. These initiatives highlighted her commitment to social justice and equity, and helped lay the groundwork for her future political career.

In 2015, Jenkins began curating the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota’s Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies.

Her focus was to expand the collection of trans narratives by recording oral histories, and she has continued this work as Oral Historian for the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota Libraries. Her work in this area showcases her passion for preserving history and making it accessible to future generations.

Political Career and the First Openly Transgender Woman of Color Elected to Public Office in the USA

In 2016, Jenkins announced her candidacy for Minneapolis City Council with the campaign slogan, “Leadership. Access. Equity.” She ran for the open seat in Ward 8, and she won with 73% of the vote, making her the first openly transgender woman of color to be elected to public office in the United States.

Andrea Jenkins
Youtube – @minnesotahistory

After her election, Jenkins’s colleagues on the City Council elected her Vice President of the Council. Her platform was focused on issues of equity, including public safety, transportation, affordable housing, and disparities between whites and people of color in Minneapolis.

She was re-elected to the City Council in 2022 with 86% of the vote, and her colleagues then unanimously elected her President of the Council, making her the first openly transgender person to hold this position. Her career is a testament to her dedication to public service, social justice, and creating a more equitable society.

Art and Passions

She is also a poet and artist, whose work often deals with issues of race, social justice, sexuality, and gender. She discovered literature and poetry at a young age, and was introduced to the Black Arts Movement by her mentor Haki Madhubuti.

Her poetry has been published in several acclaimed volumes, including The T is Not Silent: New and Selected Poems (Purple Lioness Press, 2015), and she has contributed to a number of anthologies, including:

In addition to her poetry, she is also a visual artist. She has exhibited her artwork in galleries throughout the Twin Cities area, and her work often explores themes related to gender identity and social justice. She has said that her art is a way for her to explore her own experiences and emotions, as well as to connect with and educate others.

Her Legacy

Her legacy is one of pioneering leadership, activism, and advocacy for marginalized communities, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community. As a poet, artist, historian, and public official, she used her platforms to promote love, equity, and inclusion in public discourse, challenging the status quo and fighting for a more just society.

Andrea Jenkins award
Youtube – @minnesotahistory

She is a symbol of hope and inspiration for all those who strive to make the world a better place, and her story is a testament to the transformative power of hard work, dedication, and love.

Andrea Jenkins’s remarkable life and legacy remind us that we can all be agents of change and that together, we can create a more just, equitable, and compassionate society.

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About the author

Amanda Valentine Dela Cruz
Amanda Valentine is a transgender woman who has written about trans topics for over 10 years for My Transgender Date. She is an author who made it on Amazon’s best-seller list by writing 5 books on trans women’s relationships. Her book “Dating Transgender Women for Gentlemen” peaked at #3 in the Transgender Studies category on Amazon. She started writing at the age of 10 and won a poetry contest in 4th grade which convinced her to pursue a career in literature. Her personal experiences as a transgender woman give her a unique perspective on trans topics.

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