Equity in the Cities

Mayor, City Council approves Minneapolis Transgender Equity Council

Artwork by Taylor Daniels

Artwork by Taylor Daniels

On Feb. 16, Minneapolis became the first major city in the country to establish an official advisory committee on matters concerning the transgender community. The City Council resolution, authored by Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, was approved unanimously and passed mayoral review. Glidden’s resolution calls for a 15-member Transgender Equity Council, which will focus on conducting research on topics such as policy, courses of action, and programs that will protect and empower one of the most vulnerable groups in the cities.

Aside from being the first officially recognized LGBT advisory committee in the Twin Cities, the Equity Council is also the first of its kind nationwide.

Minneapolis has been at the forefront of the battle for transgender and non-gender conforming residents rights since 1975, when the city was the first in the county to create an ordinance that explicitly prevented discrimination against all members of the LGBT community. Although it was a step in the right direction, major disparities remained and, to this day, are still prevalent in health services, employment, and access to public spaces. In 2014, the city of Minneapolis Transgender Issues Work Group was established, made up of members from many different city departments and offices. The informal group sought to tackle transgender disparities once more by engaging a broader community, suggesting policy alterations to the city, and it continues to operate today. In addition to the work group, a Trans Equity Summit has been held annually, which accents which issues would be addressed each year.

“We have had great engagement and influence from transgender community members at the summit,” Glidden said. “Community members wanting to form a relationship with the city on policy and other issues is what drove interest in the council.”

Last year, the primary focus of the Trans Equity Summit was geared toward the preparation and promotion of trans-inclusive employers and equitable workplace policies. These areas are slated to be some of the focuses of the Equity Council, though Glidden stressed that the new format will allow them to tackle many issues at the same time.

On a national level, transgender issues have begun to pick up increasing mainstream attention with the formation of new branches within large groups such as the Human Rights Campaign’s Parents for Transgender Equality and ongoing efforts made by the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Glidden hopes that this interest would continue to grow inside and outside of the transgender community as the city becomes more “mature and sophisticated with [its] commitment” to addressing transgender rights and disparities, she told the Star Tribune in an interview.

The announcement of the council came as Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham—two openly transgender candidates—are running for City Council in Ward 8 and 4 respectively.

“The creation of this committee demonstrates the city of Minneapolis’ commitment to support and uplift the transgender community by bringing us to the table,” Cunningham said in a Feb. 8 Committee of the Whole meeting. Both Jenkins and Cunningham have expressed their support for the new Equity Council, Cunningham calling it “truly groundbreaking.”

Despite the undisputed creation of the council and two transgender candidates in the race for City Council, members of the LGBT community are nervous that a newly elected City Council may threaten to undo their recent victory. To quell these fears, Glidden stressed that the Equity Council will remain in the city until there is a formal action to take it away—something she says “would be incredibly difficult to accomplish.”

Once the council is fully seated by the middle of this year, members will establish goals and a work plan, biennially reporting their research and recommendations to the City Council’s Committee of the Whole. The council will maintain regular contact and input from the transgender community through the Work Group, as well as other Minneapolis organizations such as OutFront Minnesota.

“The council has an opportunity to really influence the city’s work on transgender disparities,” said Glidden. “To make a significant impact will require many stakeholders working together— the council can help produce the momentum for those stakeholders to focus on particular issues.”

Of the council’s 15 members, eight will be appointed from the community, while others will be appointed by the Park Board, Hennepin County, and Minneapolis Public Schools. As of late March, applications for the Equity Council closed and the election process began for members, who will serve two-year terms. Meetings of the Minneapolis Transgender Equity Council will occur monthly and be open to the public.