Imagine the Possibilities

What would you consider your proudest accomplishment?

For TransActive Gender Center’s Executive Director Jenn Burleton, her proudest accomplishment is the many children they’ve supported who now are able to live the lives they are meant to live.

This accomplishment feels even greater because Jenn remembers that, less than 10 years ago, trans grade school students “sent people’s eyes to the back of their heads.”

“We have families that are thriving now. One hundred and fifty children in K-12 in the Portland area, who have transitioned, and they’re doing great—good grades and no drama.”

Founded in 2007, TransActive Gender Center was the first non-profit with a brick-and-mortar location focused on gender diverse youth, even if they only had 400 square feet. Building awareness, creating a common language through workshops and meetings, and raising the alarm that these kids and their families needed the attention of our community posed the biggest challenge to the organization, according to Burleton.

Now, both the Oregon Department of Education and the Federal Department of Education have stepped up and issued powerful statements informing schools that they must treat transgender students equally.

Asked whether she sees the link between her pioneering work in Portland, Oregon to the Obama Administration’s new federal recommendations, Burleton replied, “Yes, absolutely!”

TransActive Gender Center’s scope of work goes beyond the Portland area, and their services are available across the state of Oregon more broadly as well. As part of a grant from Pride Foundation, TransActive is expanding their operations south into the central Willamette Valley in collaboration with the University of Oregon.

Working with faculty at the university and members of the Eugene community, their goal is to expand TransActive Gender Center’s services to replicate the success of their work in Portland. This will save youth and families the burden of traveling to Portland to access basic services, and will allow them to reach more than 100 families who are so often isolated from the support they need.

In addition to increasing services throughout Oregon, TransActive Gender Center has also expanded their brick-and-mortar location as well, adding more than 3,800 square feet of office space. With the addition of more space, they are now ADA accessible and have more room to produce in-depth trainings and educational programming—resources for which the demand has continued to dramatically increase year after year.

TransActive Gender Center also offers referrals to counseling and therapy service for youth, families, and adults; has trained almost 40 masters-level interns in providing trans-affirming mental health services since 2010; has held regular peer support groups for gender diverse youth and their families (resuming in July of 2016); and provides safe chest-binding garments to trans-masculine young adults experiencing gender dysphoria to present a “male-contoured” chest that matches their gender identity (mailing out 2,000 since 2012).

As TransActive Gender Center quickly approaches its 10-year anniversary, Burleton reflects on the organization’s impact. She is most inspired by their work to prepare the testimonies, organize public support, and educate policymakers through their Healthcare Advisory Committee to make Oregon the first state in which Medicaid covers puberty suppression for children, which allows children to prevent the permanent changes in physiology that occur during puberty that do not match their gender identity. Burleton described it as the only medical “trauma preventative” treatment because of the profound number of lives it has almost certainly saved since January 2015.

Much of the news regarding our communities can be hard to read these days—especially backlash against transgender and gender non-conforming people—but if TransActive Gender Center can achieve so much in less than ten years, imagine the possibilities for the next ten years.

by Rina Herring, Pride Foundation intern and MSW Candidate.

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