Earlier this year, the TransActive Gender Center—a local nonprofit that has spent the past decade addressing the needs of trans and gender-diverse youth and the families raising them—was renamed the TransActive Gender Project and relocated to its new home at the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling. (Full disclosure, I went to Lewis & Clark for undergrad.)
“I was a trans kid, but way back in the day,” explains TransActive’s founder and Program Director Jenn Burleton. “Around 2005 or so—after having been engaged with LGBTQ advocacy, particularly trans advocacy—I realized through talking to parents of trans and gender-expansive kids online that, even though we’d made progress with issues impacting trans adults, nobody was advocating for transgender kids. Honestly, it just kind of pissed me off. So I [decided to] start an organization that focuses on education, equity, and affirmation access, specifically regarding gender-expansive identity and expression in children and youth.”
TransActive’s mission is to provide workshops and training for schools, community groups, and businesses that might not have an awareness of how to maintain safe environments for trans and gender-diverse populations, along with support groups for families of trans and gender-diverse children and youths. Moving to Lewis & Clark’s Graduate School of Education & Counseling provided a unique opportunity, since TransActive’s training isn’t standard curriculum for most students on track to become teachers and counselors.
Of the move to Lewis & Clark, Burleton says, “We had reached this point where the demands and opportunities for education and growth were continuing to come in, but to some degree, we felt that our capacity to meet that demand was limited. I had been working with Lewis & Clark in a variety of capacities, mostly related to gender diversity education, both with the counseling center and at the law school, so we just began a conversation about what it’d look like for us to become an actual focus area in Lewis & Clark’s Graduate School of Education & Counseling... It just turned out to be perfect timing and the perfect marriage for the needs of Lewis & Clark and the work of TransActive.”
With the program’s increased access to resources, Burleton says she’s hoping that TransActive can expand the scope of its support groups, and that Lewis & Clark students will engage with volunteer opportunities facilitating these groups. She also says they’re continuing to add more on- and off-campus training with the Oregon Department of Child Welfare and TriMet, who reached out to TransActive seeking “to raise more awareness about trans, queer, and gender-diverse populations that are using public transportation, and how that cultural competency and awareness of the need to maintain safe spaces can be improved.”
TransActive also recently received a grant to develop a K-12 toolkit for Oregon schools “with specific step-by-step guidelines and procedures for how to implement trans-inclusive and queer-inclusive policies in the schools,” Burleton explains. “Even though the protections are there in Oregon state law and there have been policies issues by the Oregon Department of Education and various school districts, we’ve found that individual schools don’t really know what creating gender-inclusive academic environments actually looks like. What we want to do is to give them a toolkit: here’s what needs to change, here’s what you need to do, and here’s exactly what you need to do it.”
When asked why she thinks TransActive’s work is critical, Burleton explains, “Gender diversity and expansiveness is a natural aspect of human development; it always has been, and it always will be. Binarism—whether we’re referring to human sexuality or gender identity or gender expression—is a patriarchally misogynistic construction intended to limit human potential and to control access to power. As we have new generations of youth that continue to have more and more access to the tools they need to celebrate their internal diversity and gifts they have in regard to gender expression and identity, it is imperative that we recognize that this needs to be nourished at the earliest point in their development and treated as something that is beneficial to our society and certainly beneficial to the individual... We’re trying to put the health and wellbeing and best interests of children and youth of all genders in the forefront.”