TransActive: A Grantee Spotlight

Many transgender youth are forced to leave home because they are not accepted by their families and support systems. Transgender youth may have fewer people to turn to in a time of crisis and therefore become homeless and at-risk of exposure to exploitation on the streets. When homeless, these vulnerable youth face further difficulties if providers are not educated and trained to give them necessary support services in a competent way, when they are placed in unsafe and isolating shelter situations, or are not housed with peers that are congruent to their gender identity.

Based in Portland, Oregon, TransActive provides a comprehensive array of in-house counseling, case management and medical referral services, educational workshops, trainings, child and family advocacy, and support to transgender and gender nonconforming children and youth, their families, allies, community organizations, and helping professionals. Through education, advocacy, and education TransActive hopes to stop the vast and severe circumstances many transgender and gender-nonconforming youth face.

We recently sat down with TransActive executive director Jenn Burleson to find out what they have been up to, what inspires their work, and what the future holds for the organization.

What has been the most rewarding experience while at the helm/on staff at TransActive?

Helping families and others to see the need to affirm and support their transgender, gender fluid, gender-queer, and gender nonconforming children and youth. As a result, watching these kids blossom and thrive. Being able to see the arc from kids who transitioned at age 5-6 when TransActive first began its work and now seeing these same kids being able to experience pubertal changes that reflect their gender identity and being hopeful about their futures.

The courage and love that Moms, Dads, grandmas, and other caretakers have for their children is inspiring. These families are ready to take on the world for their child. We are honored to stand with them so their children can grow up with whole hearts, supported and loved for who they are.

Where are you at now as an organization, and what do you see for your future?

TransActive has, by virtually every measurement, become one of the most effective and comprehensive providers of services to transgender children, youth, and their families in the nation. We have been able to calibrate our capacity to deliver counseling and case management as well as support, education, and advocacy services with the growing demand, and maintaining that capability in the face of ever increasing demand will continue to be our primary challenge for years to come.

As for the future, we intend to continue working closely with allies in the medical, social services, educational, and human rights spheres to expand awareness and improve the quality of life for the children, youth, and families we serve. Among the things TransActive would like to tackle in the months and years to come are:

  • Removing pubertal suppression treatment from the “off label” classification it currently has when used to treat transgender adolescents.
  • Ensuring that every school district in the Pacific Northwest includes protections for gender identity/gender expression in its anti-bullying/student rights policies and that each of those school districts has received training for administration, faculty, and staff at all grade levels that are gender identity/gender expression (distinct from sexual orientation) focused.
  • Asking this question, “Do parental rights trump human rights?” More specifically, if a minor is a human being, and a citizen of a state (Oregon) that guarantees its citizens the right to express their gender identity as they experience it under the Oregon Equality Act, does a parent have the “right” to deny their child a right provided to them by State law?
  • Continue to deepen our collaboration with Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel and Oregon Health and Sciences University on providing necessary medical care to the kids and families we serve.

Where do you see the movement for transgender equality, and where is it headed?

At this stage in the movement, for many transgender people, the question isn’t about “equality”, it is about survival: Do transgender youth have the right to survive?

Based on so many existing policies and rising efforts to oppress these kids or, at best, ignore what the science and common decency is telling us about their lives, one could come to the conclusion that many think the answer is “no, they don’t deserve to live.”

The most challenging struggle, both within the LGBTQ population and outside of that is to get people to understand the gender identity is different from sexual orientation. It is developed and established earlier in life.

Last year, Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown gave a wonderful speech detailing the importance of your work and the need for acceptance. What inspired Superheros, Superkids?

It came out of the notion that (A) Super heroes are iconic and virtually all kids have one they connect with, whether it is a Mutant Ninja Turtle, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, or She-Ra, and (B) we have members of our staff that volunteer tirelessly on behalf of meeting the need that exists. Finally, we think our kids are, in every way, simply super. Their resilience and courage in being who they are in a world of giants that may oppose them and, for so many, patience in helping others understand their experience is profound.

Lastly, what can people do to be a better ally for gender-nonconforming kids?

The number one thing is to stop and recognize that most oppression of LGBTQ kids is about gender expression and it is not the same as sexual orientation. Honoring a young person’s gender expression is not prematurely imposing sexuality of the child, but instead is the most respectful and healthy thing you can do.

For more information on TransActive and how you can support their essential work for Oregon youth, visit: Also, join us on December 8 for Super Heroes for Super Kids—a fun and family-friendly benefit event in support of all the good work TransActive is doing for our community in Portland and the surrounding area. Pride Foundation is a proud sponsor of the event. Tickets are available at here.


Jett Johnson is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Oregon. Email Jett.

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