Minneapolis elects 2 black transgender City Council members

Published 10:07 pm Wednesday, November 8, 2017

ST. PAUL — Minneapolis has elected two black transgender representatives to its City Council, adding to what advocacy groups have described as a banner election for transgender people in public office.

Andrea Jenkins easily won the race Tuesday night for an open seat in south Minneapolis, with roughly 73 percent of the vote. Jenkins, a 56-year-old poet and historian who transitioned in her 30s, spent years as a policy aide to two previous council members in the same ward.

Phillipe Cunningham’s victory took longer because of Minneapolis’ instant-runoff voting system. But by Wednesday afternoon, the city announced Cunningham — a 29-year old transgender man who had worked in the mayor’s office — had unseated the seat’s longtime incumbent and current council president, Barb Johnson.

Email newsletter signup

Neither candidate made their gender identity a focal point of their campaigns. But Jenkins said their victories will “encourage young transgender people to keep on fighting, to keep on living, because we can be active and productive members of our community.”

Their victories came as transgender candidates made history elsewhere, too. Danica Roem became the nation’s first openly transgender state lawmaker by winning a Virginia Statehouse seat. Roem, a transgender woman, soundly defeated Bob Marshall, a longtime Republican delegate who sponsored legislation that would have restricted transgender bathroom use and who called himself the state’s “chief homophobe.”

“People are saying no to hate and yes to love,” Jenkins said.

Victory Fund, a group that advocates for LGBT candidates, called Jenkins the first openly transgender candidate elected to the city council of a major U.S. city. Cunningham followed soon after.

“Americans are growing increasingly aware of trans equality and people, and this win will surely inspire other trans people to run for office and further inclusion in their communities,” group president Aisha Moodie-Mills said in a statement, referring to Jenkins’ win.

Their wins set a new bar for transgender politicians in a region where the community has been visible for decades.

In neighboring St. Paul, Susan Kimberly ran unsuccessfully for a second term on the City Council in the 1990s after serving a single term starting in 1974 — then as Bob Sylvester. She also ran unsuccessfully for the local county commission, but was later chosen by then-mayor Norm Coleman, a Republican, to serve as St. Paul’s deputy mayor.