One of the most outspoken advocates for racial and gender equality in the country, Andrea Jenkins made history in 2017 as the first African-American transgender woman to be elected to public office. Now serving as the vice president of the Minneapolis City Council, Jenkins continues her advocacy work with a book she coedited, “Queer Voices: Poetry, Prose and Pride.”
Released last month, it was brought to life by some of its 44 contributors to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots during what Jenkins described as a “queer explosion” at the Minneapolis Institute of Art on Friday.
“As the centerpiece, we’ve invited various writers and poets to read their work,” she said before the event. “But we’re also going to have dancers, a DJ and installation artists who are presenting their work.”
For 13 years, Jenkins and co-editor John Medeiros curated a reading series in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks read or performed their work. From creative nonfiction to short stories, Jenkins said the idea behind the series was to create and build community around queer literature. Toward the end of the series, Ann Regan, the editor in chief of the Minnesota Historical Society Press, approached the curators about creating an anthology.
“We were like, ‘Yes! We’re all in!’ We’d been thinking about creating an anthology for a while, but had never taken steps to pursue it, so it was perfect for us,” Jenkins said. “So we invited all the people who had contributed to our reading series over time to submit their work.”
With 44 contributors, the book is less of a timeline of LGBT history, although various time periods are written about, and more of a portal into the lives and emotions of various LGBT-identified people. The book includes black, Latino and Muslim writers.
“There’s the lesbian perspective, the gender-nonconforming identity perspective and disabled queer people writing about their identities,” Jenkins said. “We were very intentional about the stories represented.”
Her goal for the book is to detach stereotypical assumptions and show a full range of humanity within the community, she said.
“It is not just a community that is depressed and chemically addicted. It’s a community that speaks of hope, love, beauty and joy.”
Jenkins decided early in her campaign to stay involved in the arts.
“The arts not only helps to humanize the issues we talk about and work on as policymakers, politicians and social justice advocates,” she said, “but it also helps me maintain my sanity while being engaged in this work.”