When Andrea Jenkins returned to the University of Minnesota after a 10-year hiatus, she was handed an identification card with a name she hasn’t used in years.
The school identified the title she used when she was an undergraduate.
She said the incident served as a hard reminder of her struggle as a male transitioning to female, though it’s only one of many transgender people face in every day life.
Jenkins has advocated for transgender rights for more than two decades in Minneapolis offices and, most recently, the
University. She started working as the school’s first transgender oral historian earlier this month, a job which will require her to interview transgender people across the upper Midwest and compile their stories.
The work will be included in the University’s library collection, called the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies.
The collection’s organizers received a multi-year grant last fall for appointed individuals to gather and share transgender experiences in an effort to preserve the group’s history in the region.
Lisa Vecoli, a curator for the Tretter Collection, said Jenkins stood out from the other candidates who applied for the position because of her ties to the community and her ability to use storytelling as a way to advocate for transgender rights.
“She was able to say, ‘My priority is advancing the transgender community, and I believe the best way we can do this is through telling stories,’” Vecoli said.
Jenkins grew up in Chicago. She said when she was four years old, she started to feel different from her peers. And though she felt like a girl, she suppressed the urge to act like one. She turned to sports to appear and feel more masculine.
“I knew those feelings existed, but I tried to bury them and do things that would make me more acceptable according to societal norms,” she said.
Before she came out as a transgender woman decades ago, Jenkins attended the University but abruptly left during her sophomore year because she was kicked out of her fraternity after her colleagues discovered and disagreed with her sexual preferences.
Since then, Jenkins married and had a child. But she never came out as transgender to her family until she was 30 years old. One year after that, she told her friends and coworkers.
She went on to complete her undergraduate degree and then pursue higher schooling in fields like community economic development and creative writing. She’s held jobs in city government, aiding local officials. Now, she spends her time writing and performing poetry at various Minneapolis venues and working with the University library collection.
Jenkins worked in the office of Ward 8 City Councilman Robert Lilligren, who was an avid LGBT advocate during his time on the Council in the early 2000s.
Jenkins said her time with Lilligren was largely spent working with community members on outdated policy issues in south Minneapolis, a task that put the skills she acquired from studying human services and interpersonal communication to use.
After Lilligren’s first term ended, Jenkins began promoting policy changes on behalf of the transgender community with City Councilwoman Elizabeth Glidden, who filled the eighth ward seat on the Council. Jenkins has also helped legalize gender-neutral bathrooms in the city’s restaurants and public spaces.
“She has just such a way about her, of moving and influencing those around her to think about issues that they had not previously thought about,” Glidden said.
“She is able to bring to the table a really significant and influential voice.”