By Nick BeJeaux
Peter Michael Jenkins helped save Highland Coffees from closure, has personally registered over a thousand people to vote, organized peaceful protests in record time and isn’t done yet – not remotely.
DIG sat down with Jenkins at (where else?) Highland Coffees to find out what drives the 26-year old activist and community organizer. Now a Public Administration Grad Student at LSU, Jenkins’ early years in high school set the tone for today.
“The secret is knowing people; knowing who cares about what in your community and utilize them when they needed to be utilized.”
“I came out of the closet as gay when I was thirteen; freshman year of high school,” Jenkins said. “My parents decided to send me to boot camp to make me straight again halfway through my sophomore year; that was fun. It was difficult being one for the only people being out in my high school.”
“When me and some friends tried to start a gay/straight alliance at my high school, we were told that we would be expelled before they allowed the group to form; this is at Bolton High School in Alexandria. We still went forward, and found an advisor. That fall, we found out she, a teacher who had been there for years, was transferred. After the next thirteen years, being open about my identity has made me want to be an activist and a better activist. I can’t go through life not doing anything to help people who are going through what I went through. I want to know I’ve made a difference.”
Jenkins’ forte is LGBTQ and gender issues but isn’t picky when it comes to causes. Jenkins started the Save Highland Coffees movement, which obviously succeeded. Jenkins also rganized a vigil for Michael Brown nd victims of police brutality within 20 hours of the Grand Jury’s decision to not indict his shooter; over 200 people attended.
“I can’t say it’s something hard to do,” Jenkins said. “One night I was studying/watching Netflix and I came across the story about Highland Coffees online. I created a petition on Change.org, which took about 10 minutes – editing it took another 10 minutes – and then I started posting it everywhere the story popped up on Facebook, news sites – everywhere. The vigil was the same, really. The secret is knowing people; knowing who cares about what in your community and utilize them when they needed to be utilized.”
Jenkins says that not being picky is the other secret to being a successful activist.
“When we were organizing the SHC movement, we received a critique from the LSU Professor Robert Mann and it was a very justified critique,” said Jenkins. “He said that students were coming out en masse to protect a coffee shop, and these same students didn’t go to the protests at the Capitol to fight the cuts that have been decimating higher education. While I came from Nicholls and protested, most students didn’t. We need to rally around more than just coffee shops.”
“We’re in a state where, today, it is still legal to fire someone because they are gay, or deny someone housing because they’re lesbian; you can evict someone if you find out they are transgender. When it comes to employment, housing, and all these other rights, people like me don’t have them. We have to organize around all of the issues we face, whether it’s a coffee shop, LGBT discrimination, women’s issues, or police brutality and so many other things. Where there’s injustice, I try to be there.
“I just want people to wake up and realize that they can’t just sit at home and comment on Facebook; they have to get up and march and engage in civil disobedience. We can’t wait around for our Congressmen to do it, we have to force it. That’s the only way change has ever happened in this country.”
On top of grad school and community work, Jenkins also operates an independent clothing line called OUTdesigns LA. Jenkins makes all of the made-to-order stockings, hats, scarves, yoga mat bags and even bath products.
“If I’m not doing that,” Jenkins said, “I’m sleeping or watching Star Trek [laughs].”