UMN unveils transgender oral history exhibit

The exhibit is now on display at the Elmer L. Andersen Library on West Bank.

by Arianna Valenzuela-Zazueta

The University of Minnesota unveiled an exhibit documenting the history of the transgender and gender non-conforming community on Thursday.

The exhibit, titled “’In Their Own Words’: The Tretter Transgender Oral History Project,” is on display at the Elmer L. Andersen Library. A celebration was held for the exhibit, which included an announcement about the project’s future. 

“I just want to highlight why it is so important that we tell our narratives at this time while we are still alive,” said Andrea Jenkins, oral historian of the transgender oral history project. “Because in 2017, 23 transgendered people … primarily transgendered women of color [have] been murdered.”

The project, launched in 2015, is part of the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies in the University’s libraries. 

Lisa Vecoli, curator of the Tretter Collection, said the first phase of the project primarily focused on identifying the transgender community in Minneapolis and the Upper Midwest. 

Vecoli announced the project recently secured funding for its second phase, set to launch next year.

The aim of phase two is to interview 100 organizers and political leaders from across the nation and focus on their work, Vecoli said.

“Who’s setting the agenda? Who’s at the table? Who’s missing? What are the challenges and opportunities?” she said. “Those are the questions we’ll be answering in phase two.”

According to Vecoli, the transgender and queer communities would not have enough historic documentation without the Tretter Collection. 

“The Tretter Collection came to the University in 2000… it’s one of only a few dedicated LGBT archives in the country,” she said. “Because we don’t have enough material in the transgender-queer community, we had the opportunity to request some funding.”

The motive behind the new exhibit, Jenkins said, was to promote positivity about the transgender community. 

“I believe that our story matters, our lives matter and … there’s just been a lot of transphobia, and racism and violence perpetrated against transgendered people,” she said. “I want to change that narrative.”

University junior Aurin Chowdhury is one of many students who attended the exhibit to support Jenkins and the project.

“Not enough people come to look at the exhibits … and I think this is one of the most powerful exhibits I’ve seen here so far,” Chowdhury said.

The celebration of the exhibit concluded with a live performance by transgender Twin Cities musician Venus de Mars.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Andrea Jenkins’ title. Jenkins’ title is oral historian for the Transgender Oral History Project.