Andrea Jenkins archives LGBTQ stories for the ages


Almost a half century since the gay community rose up against anti-sodomy laws at New York City's Stonewall Inn, Andrea Jenkins sits in a quiet corner on the second floor of the University of Minnesota's Elmer Andersen Library, the sequined shoulders of her blouse flickering in the afternoon sunshine.

The 54-year-old is now just two months into her appointment as the University of Minnesota's transgender oral historian, where she's charged with recording and archiving people's stories for the ages.

It's an assignment she doesn't take lightly. The "T" remains a sometimes stigmatized, often-forgotten cousin in the LGBTQ acronym, according to Jenkins.

"The perception that transgender people were freaks, outliers, and potentially brought down the gay community, that has shifted," she says. "I can't say dramatically, but I feel like trans people have created their own movement within."

Her role in that movement means being a poet, a writer, an advocate.

"I can do that through my daily existence," says Jenkins. "Being visible. Being included in conversations that aren't necessarily LBGT-specific, but having a voice and representing a community that has been marginalized for a long time."

In fact, in 1979 when Jenkins made Minneapolis home, she didn't involve herself with the trans community. "They were novelties, they were drag queens," she says. "It was something that gay men did on Halloween. But that wasn't my own experience."

Jenkins's "moment" came at age 30, working as a Hennepin County vocational counselor.

Unhappy and exhausted with living a "disingenuous" life, Jenkins discovered a resource within walking distance at the university's human sexuality program.

"It was there I learned there are many, many, many other people who feel like this," she says, "and there's also a process to help you sort of come to a recognition of congruency with your mind and your body, a process where I could explore my feminine identity, which always existed, and explore that outwardly."

As the Cities' LGBTQ community has come of age, so has Jenkins. Ten years working for the county was followed by a 12-year run as Minneapolis City Councilwoman Elizabeth Glidden's senior policy aide.

"Now I fly all around the world," says a beaming Jenkins.

Before disappearing back into her office at the Andersen Library, she reflects.

"Stonewall... that was the start," she says. "Five years from now, with the advent of social media and the internet, I really believe the transgender movement will be where the gay, lesbian, and bisexual movement is now."