September 10, 2018

Instructor Q&A: Gender Diversity in Youth

TransActive’s Jenn Burleton discusses why her upcoming workshop is essential for educators

Upcoming workshop presenter Jenn Burleton is the Founder and Executive Director of TransActive Gender Center, a resource providing a range of services to empower transgender and gender diverse children, youth and their families. Her expertise as an educator and advocate is nationally recognized, and we are thrilled to have her on the Lewis & Clark campus this October.

Her October 27th workshop for educators, school counselors, volunteers and other school personnel will focus on ways we can create more inclusive and affirming classroom and school environments for gender nonconforming, gender diverse and transgender students in K-12 schools. We asked her a few questions about why this is essential learning for those working in education.

Gender Diversity in Children & Youth: Inclusive & Affirming Care in Schools

Saturday, October 27, 2018, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Offered for CEUs, PDUs and Washington Clock Hours. Register online - Early Bird Rates end 10/3

You have over ten years of experience working with students and schools around the topic of gender diversity. Can you describe some of your work? 
When I began this work, there was (for the most part) absolutely zero visibility, awareness, or focus being given to gender identity development and affirmation of gender expansive students. This was particularly true for elementary and middle-school age students. In many ways, I needed to both establish the vocabulary we would use to discuss gender diversity in young children and establish the professional development space in which these issues would be discussed and prioritized.

Why does your organization’s mission focus solely on gender identity rather than the entire LGBTQIA+ community?
Because there was so very much focus on the sexual orientation of high school students and to a lesser degree, middle school students we felt it was necessary to differentiate sexual orientation from gender identity in a very specific way: by not implying that the LGBTQ spectrum was essentially different shades of the same thing. Also, focusing on gender rather than sex made it easier to have conversations with those at the elementary school level.

Are there any organized efforts or legislative proposals to mandate this type of training for educators? Are best practices generally established by the state, within a district, or are they school-specific?
There are guidelines issued by various state Departments of Education (DOE) regarding the desirability of gender diversity professional development training (including Oregon) – however none of it is “mandated” by states or DOE’s. The only instances in which this training has been mandated have been when a school district was sued for discrimination and lost, and the Court mandated gender diversity education as one of the conditions of a settlement or judgement.

What are the main reasons you think this training is essential for those who work with youth, especially mental health professionals, educators and school personnel?
It will contribute to happier/healthier outcomes for students in ways that include but go far beyond academic performance. It will save lives. This includes the lives of students who are not themselves gender diverse or transgender, but who may know, live with or love someone who is. 

Most agree that diversity (cultural, ethnic, religious) is important when it comes to the makeup of a classroom. What do you think needs to happen within schools in order for gender diversity to be celebrated in a similar way?
The first thing that needs to happen is for schools to become proactively responsive to the fact that gender diversity exists at every grade level, in every class, every semester, every school year. A student needs to see overt signs of inclusive policies and behavior before that student can feel safe in ‘coming out’ to a teacher, administrator or counselor. Part of this process is first examining existing stereotypes we unconsciously continue to affirm about boys, girls, men, women and those who do not conform to those stereotypes. The growth isn’t about “them”, it’s about “us”.

What can participants in your workshop expect to take away?
Participants will gain a deeper understanding of how gender identity is an innate experience for all people, and how suppressing our natural diversity is not only unhealthy for everyone, but counter-productive to encouraging self-improvement and contributing toward a health society. We will learn how to differentiate fact-based, proven methodologies for supporting trans and gender expansive students from anti-trans propaganda, misinformation and hate-driven diatribe. We will learn how to process the experiences of gender diverse students through examining their own gender experiences, and how to effectively support students and communicate with caregivers about student gender diversity.

Learn more about TransActive Gender Center