St. Olaf College | News

Taylor Center to host two LGBTQIA+ trailblazers for talk on campus

To honor and celebrate LGBTQIA+ History Month, St. Olaf College’s Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion will host a conversation with trailblazers Andrea Jenkins and Raffi Freedman-Gurspan ’09 on October 21.

Andrea Jenkins
Andrea Jenkins

Jenkins, president of the Minneapolis City Council, is the first African American openly transgender woman to be elected to office in the United States. Freedman-Gurspan, a St. Olaf alumna who works as deputy director of public engagement at the United States Department of Transportation, was the first openly transgender staff member hired by the White House when President Obama appointed her as an outreach and recruitment director for presidential personnel in 2015.

Jenkins will deliver a keynote address on public policy impacting the LGBTQIA+ community at 4 p.m. in Tomson Hall 280, followed by a conversation with Freedman-Gurspan facilitated by Associate Professor of Practice in English Juliet Patterson. A reception will be held in the Tomson Hall East Lantern after the talks, which are free and open to the public.

The event is part of the inaugural Grose Family Lecture Series, which aims to amplify the campus community’s LGBTQIA+ voices, with additional support from the Taylor Center. 

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan '09
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan ’09

“The significance of this inaugural Grose Family LGBTQIA+ Lecture Series and the visit by two women who have blazed a trail in historic firsts takes on greater meaning in the month of October, which is being celebrated  as LGBTQIA+ History Month across the country,” says Assistant Director for Multicultural, Gender, and Sexuality Damian Waite.

“Here on the Hill we often talk about our aspirations for every member of the St. Olaf community to feel like they belong here. In our history as a college community, some members of our LGBTQIA+ community have not always been treated like they belonged here and have not always felt welcomed here,” he adds. “This keynote series is one small step in the right direction to amplify the voices of the LGBTQIA+ community here on the Hill, which  should make us hopeful  for our community’s future in creating what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. termed the Beloved Community.”

This keynote series is one small step in the right direction to amplify the voices of the LGBTQIA+ community here on the Hill, which  should make us hopeful  for our community’s future in creating what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. termed the Beloved Community.Assistant Director for Multicultural, Gender, and Sexuality Damian Waite

Freedman-Gurspan was appointed to her current role in the Department of Transportation by President Joe Biden, and she works on behalf of Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Prior to this role, she was a deputy states director for the All On The Line campaign of the National Redistricting Action Fund. Between 2017 and 2019, she was the director of external relations at the National Center for Transgender Equality, where she managed public education and field organizing operations.

She served in the Obama administration from 2015 to 2017, advancing from her initial role recruiting presidential personnel to become a senior associate director for public engagement responsible for LGBTQ community affairs. Before leaving office, President Obama appointed Freedman-Gurspan to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which she served on from 2017 to 2022.

Prior to moving to Washington, D.C., Freedman-Gurspan worked as a legislative director in the Massachusetts House of Representatives; for the mayor’s office in Somerville, Massachusetts; at the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition; and in Boston University’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. Freedman-Gurspan was adopted from Honduras and grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts. At St. Olaf she majored in political science and Norwegian.

Jenkins became president of the Minneapolis City Council this year after having served as vice president since 2018. She is also a writer, performance artist, poet, and transgender activist.

Jenkins worked as a vocational counselor for the Hennepin County government for a decade. She worked as a staff member on the Minneapolis City Council for 12 years before beginning work as curator of the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota’s Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies.

 She holds a master’s degree in community development from Southern New Hampshire University, an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and a bachelor’s degree in human services from Metropolitan State University.

Jenkins is a nationally and internationally recognized writer and artist, a 2011 Bush Fellow to advance the work of transgender inclusion, and the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships. In 2018 she completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government program at Harvard University.