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Breaking Down Barriers: Mo Jenkins Makes Transgender History in the Texas Legislature

Mo Jenkins • Photo by Willxwhit Photography

Mo Jenkins is shaking things up as the first trans woman to be a committee director and committee clerk in the Texas Legislature. Currently working for Abel Herrero, the state representative for Texas House District 34, Jenkins is herself now running for state representative. If she wins her primaries, Jenkins will be the first openly trans person to have their name on the ballot, and potentially the first openly trans person to serve in the Texas Legislature.

However, working in politics wasn’t Jenkins’ dream. It was her mother’s diagnosis of congestive heart failure that fueled her original career aspirations.

“I never wanted to go and work in politics. I didn’t know much about it as a kid,” Jenkins recalls. “I actually wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon to invent new ways to keep hearts alive.”

Growing up, Jenkins had to overcome many adversities. “There was a point where my mom and I ate butter, sugar, and rice for four months straight because we ran out of meat and beans,” she says. “We didn’t have anything to eat, so that’s what we ate—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—except when I was at school. Then I had the school lunches.”

Jenkins also recalls moving often as a child, coming home from school to find the electricity had been cut off, and having to live with her grandmother when her mom got sick and they were facing eviction.

As a teenager, Jenkins experienced homelessness while also attending public school. “Being in collegiate high school is how I pulled myself up,” she says. “That’s how I got myself the scholarships to be able to go to college, to get a degree, to now have the job that I have. So I always want to protect those pathways for students, protect our public schools, and give investments to our higher-education programs so that people can go to school and come out with less debt.”

In college, Jenkins was a double major in biomedical sciences and political science. “I only added political science because I had a professor who told me, ‘If you add on a liberal-arts major, it’ll help boost your GPA for med school,’” Jenkins admits. “I just chose the first one that they put in front of me, but one of the classes I took was Campaigns and Elections with Dr. Gleason. And I fell in love.”

That one class changed Jenkins’s life path completely. She dropped her biomedical sciences major and focused exclusively on political science. Her hard work earned her a 2020 internship working for State Representative Herrero and launched her political career.

“In my professional life I’m lucky to have a boss who allows me to be my authentic self,” explains Jenkins. “There are some members of the Legislature that have tried to weaponize me being a Black trans woman, to the point where it has threatened my safety.”

“I want to be a great example for this historic moment, but I also want to show republicans that you cannot pigeonhole trans people.” — Mo Jenkins

It’s not easy to be openly trans in the Texas Legislature, but Jenkins doesn’t let that deter her. “With all the debates about these bathroom bills and things,” she says, “I know the images the lawmakers are thinking of. They’re thinking of the big biker who puts on the blonde Party City wig, and that’s what they think ‘trans’ is. So I try to have realistic conversations, and it’s a lot harder for these members to attack our community when they have to face us every single day. Members will say some sick stuff because they know that you cannot get to them. They know that if you try to approach that dais, that DPS is going to stop you. They know that you can’t go to those back hallways with them,” Jenkins notes. “But when they know that they cannot run away from the community that they are talking about, they are a lot more careful with their words.”

Jenkins experienced this firsthand during the debates over SB 14, when she confronted both Republican and Democratic legislators about their use of dehumanizing language regarding the trans community.

“I want to be there in those spaces because I want you—to my face—to say these things, because you can’t run to the members’ lounge. I can go there. You can’t run to the back hallway. I can go there. You can’t hide on the floor, because I’m there with you,” she states defiantly.

Yet Jenkins doesn’t want to be the only trans person in the Legislature. “It gets lonely,” she admits, so she encourages anyone interested to throw caution to the wind and put their name on the ballot. “I want to be a great example for this historic moment, but I also want to show Republicans that you cannot pigeonhole trans people as just being trans. We are policy experts. We are educators. We are administrators. We are nonprofit leaders. We are in the community doing work all the time, and you see us all the time.”

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David Clarke

David Clarke is a freelance writer contributing arts, entertainment, and culture stories to OutSmart.
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