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Last year, Andrea Jenkins became the first openly transgender black woman to hold public office in a metropolitan area. Just several months before she took her seat at the Minneapolis City Council, she had won 73 percent of the first-choice votes in the city's Eighth Ward, where "she worked with small-business investors, art initiatives and neighbors to turn around decades of blight," according to a glowing 2017 editorial endorsement from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
"The place where the real policies — where $15-an-hour minimum wage laws are being passed, where climate change laws are being passed — is happening in cities," she explained to In the Know. "I knew then that I had to run for office. I thought, 'Yes, I'm going to do this.'"
In fact, Jenkins has compiled an impressive record in public service. She worked at the Hennepin County government for nearly a decade before she was hired as a staff member on the Minneapolis City Council. There, she worked for 12 years before taking on an additional role as the curator of the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota's Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies. As curator, she has interviewed over 190 individuals about their experiences as transgender or gender non-conforming people, the Washington Post notes. The purpose, she told the paper, is to record those conversations so that historians and public alike can get primary source information on those communities.
"Four hundred years ago, enslaved Africans landed on the shore of this country, and it was illegal 50 years ago to be gay," she told In the Know. "Now, gay and lesbian, bisexual, transgender people can get married freely in this country. So that gives me hope, though we still have a long way to go."
Now, Jenkins serves as the second-in-command at the Minneapolis City Council, a position she was also elected to in January 2018. As vice president, she supports the council president and takes on the role itself when the council president is unavailable to set the agenda for any given day. But, for all her prestigious position is worth, she acknowledges that her career hasn't been easy.
"In 38 states in this country, [transgender] people can still be fired from their jobs, they can still be denied access to healthcare, and I live with those challenges everyday," she said.
As she becomes more visible in the public arena, Jenkins told In the Know that her story has shed more light on the transgender community.
"As the first African-American trans woman to be elected to public office in a major metropolitan city, there have been news, articles all around the world," she said. "It creates awareness, it creates the understanding that transgender people are human."