We're moving! Get our latest gender and identity coverage on washingtonpost.com.

On the night of Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins’s historic election, rupture — and healing — was at the forefront of her mind.

In a unanimous vote on Jan. 10, Jenkins was chosen by her colleagues to lead the council at a pivotal moment. She also made history, becoming the first openly transgender official in the country to lead a city council.

Minneapolis is still trying to piece itself together after the police murder of George Floyd in 2020, on top of confronting the challenges facing other major American cities: the ongoing pandemic, housing shortages and increased political polarization.

The council itself has changed in recent months, becoming more racially diverse as well as more politically moderate than it was at the time of Floyd’s death.

Recognizing their shared challenges, Jenkins struck a forceful and hopeful note in her acceptance speech.

“We will reimagine, reconcile and repair the harms of the past,” Jenkins said, reading from a poem she had written for the occasion. “We are stronger than we know.”

“We will heal. We will heal. We will heal.”

This is not her first historic victory: In 2017, Jenkins became the first openly transgender person elected to a major city’s governing body, and the first Black openly trans official elected to any office in the country.

TJ Billard, a communication studies professor at Northwestern University and executive director of the Center for Applied Transgender Studies, said this kind of progress for transgender people — particularly Black trans individuals — cannot be taken for granted.

“There is no reason to think that [a trans city council president] was eventually going to happen,” they said. “Particularly when you consider how strong the backlash to transgender cultural and political victories has been in recent years.”

But her victory is not just a symbolic one, Billard added. It could have real impact on the lives of marginalized people and communities, including transgender people and people of color, in Minneapolis.

Indeed, Jenkins has deep roots in her community: A former vocational counselor for Hennepin County, Jenkins also worked as a staff member on the Minneapolis City Council for 12 years before becoming the curator of the Tretter Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota.

Her city and council members are behind her. Not only did she win the council presidency unanimously, her constituents elected her by remarkable margins — she earned 86 percent of the vote in her 2021 reelection.

We spoke to Jenkins about how her experiences have shaped her leadership and how she plans to help the city heal.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: So, the first thing I noticed was that you sign off your emails with: “Love, Andrea.” I want to know more about that practice.

A: Last year, when we kicked off our campaign, I talked to my campaign staff about how I really wanted to incorporate a message of love in my campaign and if we subsequently won. Marianne Williamson brought up that topic when she was running for president, as did Senator Cory Booker. People don’t talk about love in government.

I would just go one step further and quote [academic and social critic Cornel West]: “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

So signing off on those emails is a way to do that, and I’m sure it makes people uncomfortable because it makes me a little uncomfortable doing it. But I am committed.

You know, I’m an artist, too. So part of me is thinking about this as a public art kind of experience, and just seeing how people respond and inject a little love into the work that I’m doing.

Q: I want to go back to this piece that you mentioned of also being a performance artist, a poet. We know that you are a Black trans person in a role that we have never seen a trans person in. But I’m curious how all these layers of your experiences, these different perspectives you have, shape your leadership?

A: I attempt to bring my entire self to every involvement that I am engaged in. So it means sharing poetry on the dais — something that I have been incorporating ever since I’ve been a city employee but certainly as a city council member. And subsequently, when I did my “acceptance speech,” I shared a new poem.

As an artist, as a writer, I’m trying to inspire people to recognize the humanity in others. And I think that has really been lost in our public discourse, certainly in these past five or six years or so, when the former president came onto the scene. Respect, humanity, love — all of those things seemingly went on retreat from our public life.

Q: Something that is remarkable, too, about you and your new role is the fact that you were voted president unanimously. You were also elected at quite high margins.

A: 85 percent! That does not happen in America, at all.

Q: Right, especially at a time when I think we all feel a bit more fractured and divided from each other. When so many are critical of institutions and the people in them, tell me about the work you’re putting into building and maintaining trust in the council and in the community.

A: I think the fact that I am open and honest about my transgender status, people see that as authentic. And I believe that that authenticity translated into my work in community, my work on the council. I think people experience me as genuine and honest.

Let’s be clear — I just got elected [council] president, but I’ve been doing this work for 25 years, so people know me. They know my track record, they know my experience. So that is what I think, you know, kind of gave me that margin of victory and the unanimous vote. I do think that’s a factor.

Q: I’d love to know a little bit more about your priorities and your vision for the council and for your city — both short- and long-term.

A: I do represent the intersection where George Floyd was murdered. I live a block and a half away. I’ve been working, literally at that intersection, on revitalizing it for 20 years.

Since George Floyd was murdered and it became George Floyd Square — which is an amazing show of community memorialization, very organically grown — it has stifled business in the area, and so many of the businesses, the Black-owned, people-of-color-owned businesses that were at that intersection are no longer in existence now. So we’ve got to rebuild our city.

We lost the Third Precinct in June 2020, when the uprising happened; Lake Street, which is a very vibrant Latinx, Somali, East African business corridor that was significantly damaged in the uprising. Hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. So we have to rebuild our city.

We must reimagine public safety. Minneapolis has been at the center of the world’s attention around policing and public safety: How do we move to a society that has a public safety system beyond policing? How do we invest in more affordable housing? How do we prepare our young people for the green economy, to be ready to benefit from this infrastructure spending that is going to be happening in cities?

I will be working with my colleagues and city advocates and leaders and industry folks to craft a rent control and stabilization policy that really helps to support the most marginalized people in our society, which I believe are women of color with children. Those are the people who are deeply suffering from the inequitable realities of the rental market. So we’ll be working on that as well as rebuilding our physical infrastructure.

But also, healing. Which is going back to your first question — why am I signing off my work emails with “love”? I need our community to heal. And that’s the work that I will be trying to do over the next two years.

Q: I think it would be fair to say that you come from an activist background, and in a lot of ways, as I listen to your agenda, you’re really in a position where you’re both advancing the interests that activists have had in the city for quite some time. But you’re also in a position where you’re being held accountable to them.

I’m curious how you plan to navigate that going forward, especially in a moment where you’re emphasizing the need for healing.

A: It’s a challenge. There’s no question about it. I plan to do it like I have been, with integrity, with authenticity and with love.

Minneapolis is a big city. We are about 436,000 people, and there’s probably 436,000 ideas about how we move forward. And so we have to balance those ideas. You know, activists have some very, very good ideas, as do pragmatists. And we live in a society where we all have to get along.

Maybe Jeff Bezos [who owns The Washington Post] and that other dude from Tesla, maybe they can go to Mars. Most of us have got to live here on Earth, and we got to be neighbors with each other, so we got to figure out how do we live together and how do we continue to move forward as a community? So it is going to be a tricky balance.

Q: I normally ask this at the beginning of my interviews, but I’m asking it at the end here. I’m curious how I’m finding you today. Does today feel different for you than the 25 years preceding it?

A: Yes. It does. Yesterday I was reading a poem that I wrote about 25 years ago, and I see I’m asking for the same exact things that I’m asking for today. But today, I feel like I am in more of a position to make those things happen, to make movement on those things.

I’ve been on this planet for 60 years, and I know things take time. But I also know that things do change. And you have to be persistent and consistent. Persevere and keep pushing. I think today, we’re at a place where we can really start to see some of those things come to fruition.

Editor’s Note on gender and identity coverage

We are excited to announce a new gender and identity page on washingtonpost.com

What does it mean to come together as Asian American women? This group has been seeking an answer.

The Cosmos was formed in 2017, and its future hangs in the balance

Law schools are failing to prepare the next generation of leaders in reproductive rights and justice

As of 2019, less than one-third of law schools offered classes on these topics