June 12, 2024

A Titan of Trans Rights Advocacy is Retiring

Jenn Burleton, TransActive Gender Project program director and founder, is retiring. Since bringing TransActive to the Center for Community Engagement in 2019, Jenn has been paramount in providing community training, support services, and program development on topics surrounding gender diversity.

Jenn Burleton is retiring as program director of TransActive Gender Project on June 30, 2024, after starting the organization nearly 17 y... Jenn Burleton is retiring as program director of TransActive Gender Project on June 30, 2024, after starting the organization nearly 17 years ago. Jenn Burleton’s infectious laugh announces her arrival before she sets foot in the door, her powerful energy soon filling the room. She is memorable in a way that somehow defies description, and when you meet her you know she gets things done. She’s a force to be reckoned with; a fearless advocate; a tireless voice for those who are silenced. She’s also a professional musician with a 30 year career under her belt, quick with a joke, and, most recently, the soon-to-be retired program director of TransActive Gender Project at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling.

Nearly two decades ago, Burleton joined a Yahoo! Group for parents of transgender children and was flabbergasted to discover that there was no existing organization through which these parents could connect with other parents at either a local, regional, or national level.

“Each group was having to ‘reinvent the wheel’ of what both education and advocacy looked like,” Burleton explains.

They didn’t know the terminology or how to explain their family’s circumstances to schools or physicians; they didn’t know how to find care providers and support systems for their children or themselves; they didn’t know what their rights were. In other words, each family felt alone in this process— like they were the very first family to have a transgender kiddo.

Burleton saw a need that she knew she had the experience, skills, and passion to help fill.

Burleton was a professional musician prior to beginning her work with TransActive

“Since the 1980s, I had been involved in nonprofit work, particularly with young adults, including facilitating support groups for transgender adults and as an advocate in trans rights organizations,” Burleton shares.

Of course, I also had my own experience of being a transgender child, teen, and adult and navigating my own journey.

Further, her history as a performer had made her comfortable with being in front of small and large groups of people, and speaking to the media.

Burleton’s vision to fill this gap gave rise to TransActive Gender Center—an organization that provided educational support and advocacy services to gender diverse, queer, and transgender children, youth, and their families. Here, Burleton began her work as an educator, consultant, and advocate that spanned the next 17 years.

As Burleton’s work and TransActive Gender Center continued to grow, so did the needs of the community and the number of clients seeking services.

“When the time came to expand TransActive’s capacity, I had several options I thought would be beneficial to pursue; joining an established healthcare or social services provider organization, or reaching out to an institution of higher learning.”

A serendipitous meeting between Burleton and Matsya Siosal, director of the Lewis & Clark Center for Community Engagement (CCE) at the L&C Gender Studies Symposium, opened a new door to opportunity. Siosal found the topic of Burleton’s presentation highly relevant, and the delivery method engaging.

From L-R: Jenn Burleton with Matsya Siosal and Kelly Novahom of the Center for Community Engagement From L-R: Jenn Burleton with Matsya Siosal and Kelly Novahom of the Center for Community Engagement Jenn’s discussion explored the intersections of binarism, misogyny, ageism, and the ways these issues converge to oppress and silence gender diverse folks, especially youth, and her presentation was impassioned, intellectual and entertaining.

Having been looking to incorporate more gender literacy-related workshops into CCE’s workshop offerings, Siosal saw a partnership opportunity that would blossom into the TransActive Gender Project.

Burleton soon joined the CCE and began offering professional development workshops on subjects ranging from providing affirming care in schools, best practices for deciphering anti-trans disinformation, navigating barriers to healthcare access, and insights into the history of being transgender in America. She also helped them secure seed funding from the Pride Foundation to develop a toolkit for schools needing guidance with implementing inclusive policy into practice.

In 2022, Burleton was paramount in launching the first of its kind Gender Diversity in Children and Youth Certificate Program. Co-created with Cari Zall, summer secondary program director in the teacher education program, the online graduate-level program prepares participants to better support the needs of trans-spectrum children, youth, and adults, and become better advocates in their respective fields of practice.

Co-creating and co-teaching the Gender Diversity Certificate Program with Jenn has been one of the most impactful experiences of my life because of the way she created a model for people to learn and grow as advocates together within a caring community.

TransActive at Portland Pride, from L-R: Jenn Burleton, Cari Zall, and Cher Noonan TransActive at Portland Pride, from L-R: Jenn Burleton, Cari Zall, and Cher Noonan The program is now in its third year, with a new cohort beginning this fall.

Burleton’s impact on Zall has extended beyond the workplace, something for which Zall is grateful.

“​​My own journey as both a teacher and a parent of a transgender child has been forever improved because of Jenn’s compassionate, knowledgeable, wise, and connective guidance and friendship.”

Burleton’s final act of advocacy, before embracing the leisurely life of retirement, once again involved spotting a void that needed to be filled—providing gender-affirming counseling services for gender-expansive minors. In the fall of 2023, TransActive joined together with the Lewis & Clark Community Counseling Center to launch a pilot program for students in the Professional Mental Health Counseling (PMHC) program to receive training and supervision in clinical issues pertaining to the needs of transgender and nonbinary clients.

Nori Gruber, Director of the Community Counseling Center, and Rafe McCullough, Professor of Professional Mental Health Counseling, have worked closely with TransActive to ensure the pilot program’s success. They will be expanding it in 2024.

“We have deeply appreciated the initiative of both Jenn and TransActive Gender Project in partnering together to bring affirming and inclusive mental health care to our transgender youth community,” says Gruber.

Thinking about the half decade they spent working together, Siosal is reflective.

I have been deeply impacted both personally and professionally by Jenn’s knowledge and dedication. It will be an honor for the CCE to continue the work that she began.

In her retirement, Burleton looks forward to travel, writing, and spending time with her wife, Cher. She plans to stay engaged in independent gender diversity professional development and consulting work.

I’m planning to enjoy more sunsets, without riding off into the sunset.

We wouldn’t expect her to have it any other way.

On behalf of the entire Graduate School of Education and Counseling, thank you Jenn for all you have done and for the incredible impact you have made in the lives of the children, youth, and families you have served and advocated for. We wish you all the best!