LGBTQ+ Bar member Bryanna Jenkins has never forgotten her roots as community organizer in her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. She currently serves as Policy Director at the Lavender Rights Project where her dedication to her community remains as strong as ever. “My organizing background informs my work,” Jenkins explains. “I find value in people and I let people and their stories guide my work.”
Jenkins pursued the legal profession because she knew there is power in a law degree and the knowledge it unlocks. “I’m always looking to help my community,” she reflects, “and I thought I could use a law degree to advocate for the trans community in a more impactful way than I was already.” Before law school, Bryanna served her local trans community in Baltimore as a community organizer. Notably, she founded the Baltimore Transgender Alliance and organized the Baltimore Transgender Uprising March. Jenkins decided it was time for the Black trans community in Baltimore to build their own political power after experiencing discrimination in the nonprofit world. “We weren’t given opportunities to lead our own causes and organizations,” Jenkins explains. “We were silenced, we weren’t given chances to lead established organizations, and we were pushed out and marginalized.” Tired of seeing others try to solve the problems her community faced without actually working with her community, Jenkins took matters into her own hands by creating the Baltimore Transgender Alliance. “I wanted to make sure that Black trans folks in Baltimore could build power, so I created a framework for leadership that centered trans folks in solution making efforts,” she says. One of the first events the Baltimore Transgender Alliance hosted was a protest march during Baltimore Pride, followed by another march on Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2015. “People should be paying more attention to the issues we are facing,” Jenkins explains. “We wanted to raise that attention.”
Although Jenkins has now left Baltimore, her love for the city still runs deep and she is heartened by the changes she’s seen in both Baltimore and Maryland over the past decade. “If you look at Baltimore and the state now, you see a lot more trans Black people in power,” she says. “I like to think we laid the groundwork for that. I’m glad that people who came after me can thrive and flourish.” Jenkins left the Baltimore Transgender Alliance when she decided to go to law school, which she graduated from in 2019. However, she says her experiences in Baltimore still shape the lawyer she is today. “My experiences growing up and organizing in Baltimore made me who I am – I’m someone who is authentic and I love the people I represent,” she reflects. “I’m not afraid to do the work and have the necessary tough conversations.”
In April of 2023, Jenkins joined the Lavender Rights Project, a Seattle-based nonprofit that elevates the power, autonomy, and leadership of the Black intersex & gender diverse community through intersectional legal and social services. At the time, she was looking for positions at organizations led by Black trans people, so when the Lavender Rights Project reached out to her about their newly created National Organizing Director position, she happily joined the team. “Typically Black trans folks are most impacted by anti-trans legislation,” Jenkins explains. “I strongly believe in centering the most marginalized, because when we lift those folks up, everyone will be uplifted.” Given her experiences as a local and national community organizer, the new role was a perfect fit for Jenkins. She helped her organization make connections with other organizations led by Black trans people around the country, building their collective power and uplifting transgender people living in states with less protections than Washington, where the Lavender Rights Project is based. One of the larger projects Jenkins worked on connected her organization with The Mahogany Project and Save Our Sisters United, two Texas-based organizations that serve the local trans community. The coalition put on joint events in the Houston area with the goal of politically educating transgender Texans and their allies in a way that centered the needs of the Black trans community in the South. The collaboration led to a great relationship, empowering each organization to grow and learn from each other’s successes and unique expertise.
Last month, Jenkins was promoted to Policy Director at the Lavender Rights Project, where she will be leading state policy initiatives and will develop a national policy agenda centering Black trans experiences and needs. “Too often Black trans folks are left out of larger conversations about LGBTQ+ people and trans people in this country, even though we tend to be more impacted by the laws that criminalize trans identities,” she says. Jenkins is excited for the challenge ahead and is ready to bring the lessons she learned from her organizing days to her current work. “We all should think radically about how we approach folks in the South and Midwest,” she says. “A lot of harm is being done in those places, but the LGBTQ+ people there are some of the most resilient and powerful people I know. They’re doing the most with the least.” Most of all, Jenkins believes in letting people with the lived experience of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and criminalization lead the conversation and tell their own stories. “We shouldn’t come into these communities and think that because we are lawyers we are the smartest people in the room,” she explains. Instead, Jenkins listens to learn how she can best support people in the communities she serves, and encourages other lawyers to do the same. “Not everyone can just move to a different state and not everyone even wants to,” Jenkins adds. “We should all be thinking about how to support these communities while taking lead from them, not writing them off.”
The echoes of Jenkins’s background as a community organizer can also be seen in the reasons why she joined and loves the National LGBTQ+ Bar. “I became a member because it is important to me to have community, particularly in this profession,” she explains. Too often, Jenkins has been “the first” or “the only,” so it was important to her to seek support from the LGBTQ+ legal community. After law school, she became even more involved with the LGBTQ+ Bar and she is particularly fond of the Bar’s Annual Lavender Law® Conference and Career Fair. “As a Black, trans, and woman attorney, it is so nice to build community with other folks at Lavender Law® who share all or some of those aspects of my identity,” she explains. “This profession can be isolating, so it is really important to have a space where we can meet each other year after year.”
In addition to the community building benefits of the LGBTQ+ Bar and Lavender Law®, Jenkins also feels inspired by the support both the Bar and our conference provide to LGBTQ+ law students. “I didn’t meet many openly LGBTQ+ law students when I was in law school,” she explains,“so going to Lavender Law® and seeing so many LGBTQ+ students and students of color comfortable and open reminds me why being present and showing up matters. I’m glad they have the opportunity to see that once they’re on the other side, there will be people in this profession who will support them.”
The LGBTQ+ Bar is proud to count Bryanna Jenkins amongst our membership, and we thank her for all her contributions to the LGBTQ+ rights movement.