Black Trans Trailblazers of Today: Phillipe Cunningham and Andrea Jenkins

by Michaé Pulido

This Black History Month, NCTE is following the lead of the National Black Justice Coalition and the Ubuntu Biography Project in highlighting significant Black figures in trans history and in the present day. Learn more by visiting the #WeCanBcTheyDid hashtag.

This past November was a huge success in the stride toward trans equality as eight openly transgender candidates were elected into public office. This groundbreaking round of elections was made even more monumental by the representation of trans people of color and their visibility in the world of politics. Their names are Phillipe Cunningham and Andrea Jenkins.

These two candidates made history for the Black trans community as the first openly trans Black people to be elected into public office in the United States. Phillipe and Andrea are active social justice leaders in their communities, having personal ties with the people in the neighborhoods they now serve. They have made Minneapolis the only city to have two transgender city council members.

So, who are these two that made history this past November? Here’s what you need to know.

Phillipe Cunningham

Cunningham is a progressive, transformative leader who is now a City Council member representing the 4th Ward in North Minneapolis, advocating for resources and opportunity to improve the lives of his community. He is the first queer Black trans man in the nation to be elected into public office and has dedicated his career to social justice.

He brings over 10 years of work experience as a teacher and youth worker — in addition to his experiences serving on Minneapolis City Hall committees and as a senior policy aide and advisor in the Minneapolis Mayor’s office.

During the election, Cunningham offered transparency about his trans identity, stating that he “never had a community because of such prejudice and discrimination” and that Minneapolis offered him one. He was able to thrive and prosper in the Northside, alongside his husband and their 4 pets.

His vision for North Minneapolis surrounds the framework of community wealth, which looks beyond an emphasis on money in developing wealth, and focuses more on breaking cycles of generational poverty and violence by improving housing stability, small business ownership, and community health.

Given North Minneapolis’ history of racial disparities and criminalization of people of color, Cunningham is sure to challenge current political agendas and create a community that he can be proud of.

Andrea Jenkins

Andrea Jenkins is a Black trans poet, writer, and multimedia visual and performance artist who also happened to win a seat on the Minneapolis City Council this past November.

Aside from her artistic capability, Jenkins is a strong advocate for the trans community. Drawing from her own personal experiences of being marginalized and left out, she hopes to bring trans voices to the table. Jenkins has a history of social justice advocacy in the south central ward neighborhoods in Minneapolis, addressing youth violence and helping to redevelop streets and intersections alongside other community members. This work is sure to continue in her new role.

Prior to her victory, Jenkins served as a Senior Policy Aide to the 8th Ward City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden and serves on the boards of OutFront Minnesota, Forecast Public Art, and SMARTS.

She is the mother of one daughter, named Nia. Her dedication as a mother also led Jenkins to co-curate Intermedia Arts’ Queer Voices Reading Series with John Medeiros, one of the longest running LGBT reading series in the country.

She has dabbled in both the arts and political fields, which makes her an extraordinary addition to the City Council. Her mixture of art and social justice will provide a unique perspective to the streets of Minneapolis and she definitely will dedicate her seat to uplifting her communities.

Gaining over 70 percent of votes in Minneapolis’s 8th ward, she is well known in the neighborhoods of South Minneapolis, giving her a connection to the spaces she will now serve.

Both of these victories have contributed to the much-needed progress of queer and trans representation in U.S. politics. They serve as a beacon of hope for the trans community during the countless attacks from state legislatures and the president.

These victories cannot be attributed solely to the candidates, though. There is power in the voices of the people, and this election has clearly shown where the people stand. This election is not only a moment of history for the city of Minneapolis, but for the progress of the trans equality movement.

For more on Black LGBTQ trailblazers, check out the #WeCanBcTheyDid hashtag, a collaboration between the National Black Justice Coalition and the Ubuntu Biography Project.

Michaé Pulido is an undergraduate intern at NCTE.