By Hugo Greenhalgh LONDON, February 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Poet, performance artist, politician and trailblazer. For Andrea Jenkins, the first black transgender American to lead a city council, all roles hinge on her lifelong pursuit of justice.
“Poetry and politics have had a very close connection,” Jenkins, 60, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a video call. “As one of my favorite poets and mentors, Amiri Baraka, said, ‘Poets are the lawmakers of the world’.” stronger black and trans rights, as well as the representation of her constituents, which consumes her.
She became the first black trans person to lead a city council in January, a breakthrough that US broadcaster NBC heralded as making “national history”. But she fears things could go wrong in the United States, citing a series of transgender-related bills in largely conservative states that seek to roll back the clock.
She cites a growing number of state lawmakers who want to block trans people from participating in school sports, as well as a slew of bills to restrict access to gender-affirming medical care. Last year, 34 states introduced 147 bills targeting trans people, according to LGBTQ+ rights organization HRC.
Even if these bills don’t become law, they still hurt trans-Americans, Jenkins said, especially those growing up now. “Most of these bills attack young people in schools (and are designed to piss off) parents about these issues,” she said. “The psychic and emotional impact these things have on communities is palpable.”
SO MANY ROLES Jenkins was born in Chicago in 1961 and grew up in what she described as a “low-income, working-class community.”
After attending the University of Minnesota, she entered politics as an aide to gay Minneapolis Native American City Council member Robert Lilligren. But seeing the same doors close on opportunity, time and time again, she found herself wondering, “How can I influence politics?”
The answer was graduate school and a degree, she said, which taught her to “build community through policy-making.” During her studies, she met Lilligren, who was already a candidate for political office. He told her that if he won, he would take her with him to power.
“It was 2001,” Jenkins recalled, picking up the story. “A Native American gay man? I’m like, yeah, if you win, I’ll come work with you – thinking he’ll never win.” She was wrong — and Lilligren’s victory took her to 13 years as a political aide, before Jenkins took time out to organize the transgender oral history project at the University of Minnesota.
She was elected to city council in 2017. And then came the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd in Minneapolis by a white police officer on May 25, 2020.
It changed everything, Jenkins said. “(I was) so overwhelming and emotionally hurt,” she said, recalling how she felt when she first heard the news.
“Four hundred years of racism flooded my mind and imagination: lynchings, mass murders of entire communities, unjust Jim Crow laws that impacted America.” No, it was legally injected into our policy.”
In response, the Minneapolis City Council declared racism a public health crisis, and Jenkins felt pressured to act. “Because (racism) literally impacts all of us, it drives our national gross domestic product down,” Jenkins said. “Racism literally impacts people’s physical health.”
Now, as city council president, she is focused on “healing my community.” “I really hope that my (role in) public life will inspire others to see trans and gender non-conforming people in a more positive light,” she said.
And perhaps she will also dispense poetry, hoping to unite disparate communities in difficult times. “Every poem is a love poem,” Jenkins said. “And I think we need to inject more love and poetry into our public discourse.”
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)