A new national political action committee committed to electing transgender people into office is ramping up efforts in two Minneapolis city council races. The Trans United Fund has launched the BreakThrough Fund, a political action committee (PAC) that is partnering with OutFront Minnesota’s political arm to elect two Black transgender candidates to the Minneapolis City Council.

In Ward 8 which spans south central Minneapolis, Andrea Jenkins is running as the DFL candidate for an open seat being vacated by Elizabeth Glidden. Jenkins worked for Glidden as a policy aide and has been a leader on transgender issues at City Hall, as a poet, and as the head of the University of Minnesota’s Transgender Oral History Project. Green Party candidate Terry White is also running in the district.

In Ward 4 on Minneapolis’ north side, Philippe Cunningham is running to unseat long-time council member Barbara Johnson. Cunningham has worked as a policy aide to Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges where he worked on racial equity, youth, education, and LGBTQ equity. Prior to that he was a special education teacher and youth worker. In addition to Cunningham and Johnson, the race has drawn several other challengers including DFLer Stephanie Gasca, and libertarian Dana Hansen.

Both Jenkins and Cunningham have a very good shot at becoming two of just a handful of transgender elected officials in the country, and the two are among just four candidates being backed by Breakthrough PAC in 2017 (the others being Kristen Browde who is running for town supervisor in New Castle, New York, and Danica Roem who is running for state delegate in Virginia).

BreakThrough describes itself as “an innovative political action program that will redefine the political landscape for trans and gender expansive people and our allies.” The PAC is trans-led and trans-focused, and is the first PAC dedicated to electing and supporting transgender candidates. Both BreakThrough and OutFront plan to make independent expenditures in the last few weeks of the election in Minneapolis.

The close partnership between OutFront and BreakThrough is unique.

“Our independent expenditure with Trans United Fund’s BreakThough PAC is not just historic because it is the first ever trans led and trans focused independent expenditure in political history; not just because we are poised to elect two, transformative, black trans leaders to our city council; but also because it represents the possibility of what we can do when we work together,” OutFront’s executive director Monica Meyer said in a statement. “As partners, Trans United Fund brings expertise on helping trans candidates win; a level of sophistication and expertise around political strategy; Outfront MN brings a deep knowledge and understanding of our communities; the local districts; and a commitment to center trans people and people of color and our work; together we are redefining what’s possible.”

For Trans United and its BreakThrough PAC, the partnership is transformative.

“Because OutFront MN’s leadership stepped up for trans communities and candidates, we have the chance to elect not one but two transformative, trans candidates,” said Trans United Fund’s executive director Hayden Mora. “Because of their commitment and courage, we have the opportunity to not only breakthrough historic barriers around race, gender expression but also to breakthrough old ideas that hold us back.”

For the candidates, Trans United has already been working to help grow these campaigns. In a statement, Andrea Jenkins said the support she’s received has been decisive.

“Trans United Fund has been decisive in positioning me to run a historic campaign…helped me raise money and put together my campaign plan to make sure I was successful at getting elected to the City Council,” said Jenkins. “Now, I’m poised to be the first black, openly trans woman to hold public office in the U.S., one of only a handful of trans elected officials in the country, in part because of the support of TUF.”

Mora of the BreakThrough PAC said the organization is looking for support from the Twin Cities community to support the work of the people on the ground working to elect two trans candidates to the council.

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Andy Birkey

Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

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