No Child Left Behind

MetroWeekly, the online LGBTQ news and features magazine based in Washington, D.C. just posted an article with the title “Transgender Forward: A Timeline of Significant Moments in the Transgender Movement”. It features events from roughly the last 200+ years that impacted the lives of people we now consider to reside somewhere on the ‘transgender spectrum’. The timeline itself was compiled by the staff at another online magazine, San Diego LGBT Weekly.

While it is a lovely and no doubt impressive list of people and events, it left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. There was something missing…but what could it be? All the stars and icons were present, Christine Jorgensen, Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono, Renee Richards, Oregon’s own Stu Rasmussen, Lana Wachowski, and of course, the single most significant transgender person to ever walk the face of planet Earth, Caitlyn Jenner.

Hmmm…seems to be pretty trans-feminine heavy. But that’s a subject for another post.

In addition to the people, most of the known events were represented; Dewey’s Coffee Shop Protest, 1966 publication of “The Transsexual Phenomenon“, the Stonewall Riots. All absolutely important stuff! Yet…something was missing…what could it be?

Oh yeah. Children. Adolescents. Teens. You know, ‘our most precious possessions’, though seeing them as “possessions” is a big part of the problem. But I digress.

In a way, the exclusion of kids itself is a testament to equality. Even those dedicated to LGBTQ social justice have the human right to practice and enjoy adultist privilege by assuming the only people and events that matter are those that involve or impact other adults. It’s what I call the “transgender, gay, lesbian and queer people get to be narrow minded and self-centered  just like cisgender and straight people do” doctrine.

Yes, the list does mention several events that involved transgender youth – but they were all unspeakable tragedies. The murders of Brandon Teena, Gwen Araujo, and passing mention of fifteen-year old Leticia King, who the article refers to only by her male birth name. Even with that, the article leaves out significant tragic events from recent history.

Eighteen-year old Angie Zapata was murdered in Greeley, Colorado by Allen Andrade in 2008, after he discovered she was transgender. This resulted in a first-degree murder conviction for Andrade – the first time someone had been convicted of a bias-motivated hate crime against a transgender person in the United States.

Leelah Alcorn was a seventeen-year old transgender girl who tragically took her own life near Columbus, Ohio in 2014. While she was certainly not the only child we’ve lost to suicide, her death had a major impact on raising awareness of the evils of “conversion” and “reparative” therapy and indifference to the needs of transgender youth.

One of the primary reasons we see so much trauma experienced by and inflicted on transgender people is that adults representing every gender identity, sexual orientation, political and religious ideology and geographic location treat the needs of children and youth as afterthoughts.

Here are just a few of the SIGNIFICANT events that have involved or impacted the lives of transgender spectrum children, adolescents, teens and their families…most of whom are cisgender and heteronormative.

  • Early 20th century: gender variant patients of German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld related their experiences of feeling like a gender other than the one reflected on their birth records or suggested by their physical anatomy SINCE CHILDHOOD.
  • 1948: Alfred Kinsey introduces Dr. Harry Benjamin (author of The Transsexual Phenomenon) to a transgender child who makes it very clear that they are a girl despite their male anatomy. The child is supported by their parent, and Dr. Benjamin provides them with whatever assistance he can.
  • 1980: Inclusion of the “Gender Identity Disorder in Childhood” diagnosis in the DSM-III, where it remained as part of the DSM-IV until 2013 and the release of DSM 5 and the more accurate diagnostic classification of “gender dysphoria”. The addition of GIDC to the literature in 1980 was seen by many as an ‘end-around’ move to appease those upset with the removal of homosexuality as a mental disorder from the DSM in 1973. GIDC gave rise to deeply damaging theories and sketchy research from people like Richard Green, Kenneth Zucker, George Rekers, Joseph Nicolosi and others.
  • 1990’s: Physicians, therapists and researchers in The Netherlands begin using pubertal suppression treatment in transgender adolescents to prevent development of unwanted secondary sex characteristics like voice deepening, breast growth, menstruation, facial hair, masculinization of musculature, etc. It was the first proactive rather than reactive medical approach to affirming transgender identity in youth, resulting in greatly reduced psychological and physical trauma and reduced need for corrective surgeries or treatment later.
  • 1998: Dr. Edgardo Menvielle, a child-adolescent psychiatrist at National Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.  starts a national listserv for parents of gender variant children. By 2006, it has over 200 participants.
  • 1999: TransFamily of Cleveland creates a Yahoo! group for parents of transgender individuals, and soon more and more parents and caregivers of transgender children and youth begin discussing their experiences, feelings of isolation and ‘being the only ones’.
  • 2006/May: Former transgender child and early self-advocate Jenn Burleton (sorry for the lack of humility) stumbles across the Yahoo! group and for the first time sees a group of parents not only discussing their gender diverse and transgender kids, but voicing their unconditional support for their children.
  • 2006/July: News story breaks about a Florida transgender child starting kindergarten in fall of that year. The parents of that child belong to the Yahoo! group mentioned above. The media response is sensationalistic and the loudest voices responding to it come from the anti-gay extremist religious and conservative right wing. There is virtual silence from national LGBT civil rights/human rights organizations.

    Jenn Burleton (again, sorry) is disturbed by the lack of significant non-Internet only support mechanisms and organizations  available to transgender children and their families because it seems remarkably unchanged from her experience as a transgender child in the 1960’s. She is inspired to suggest to the members of the Yahoo! group that an organization that would serve as a champion, advocate and education resource for transgender children, youth and their families is needed. Her idea is met with enthusiasm, and very quickly 4 parents of transgender children agree to help with establishing such an organization. They reach out to PFLAG national for support, and are received enthusiastically, thanks in great part to the help of Dave and Joan Parker and Jean-Marie Navetta. The organization goes through several iterations as it develops, incorporates as a non-profit, eventually settling on the name Trans Youth Family Allies (TYFA). Ms. Burleton, a transgender woman, becomes its inaugural Board President and Executive Director.

  • 2007/April: ABC “20/20” airs a Barbara Walters special in which she interviews families of transgender children. Trans Youth Family Allies plays a small part in advising the producers of that program and for the first time audiences see transgender kids and their families as real people facing real challenges.
  • 2007/Summer: Transgender man Aidan Key and advocate/author Stephanie Brill create the first conference directed specifically to affirming gender diverse identity in children and youth in Seattle, Washington. It’s called the Gender Odyssey Family Conference, and it is hosted (at that time) by Gender Spectrum, a non-profit based in the San Francisco Bay area. Trans Youth Family Allies founders played a consultative/early development role in the conference planning.
  • 2007/Summer: TYFA founder and executive director Jenn Burleton departs that organization and co-founds Portland, Oregon-based TransActive Education & Advocacy, which later changed its name to TransActive Gender Center. She is joined in this endeavor by transgender individuals Kaig Lightner and Hayley Klug. TransActive is also dedicated to serving the needs of transgender and gender diverse children, youth and their families, but seeks to expand their work to include influencing policy change through education of legislators, improving collaborative relationship and understanding of childhood transgender identity within LGB and adult T organizations. The organization also establishes a full-service counseling program that will provide integrated services to children, youth and families.
  • 2010: The U.S. State Department announces new policy of issuing passports to transgender individuals that reflect their current gender rather then their birth gender.
  • 2011: The U.S. Department of Education releases a “Dear Colleagues Letter” to every school district in the nation clarifying that transgender and gender diverse students attending public schools are protected under Federal Title IX equal opportunity and civil rights legislation. That sex discrimination includes harassment and bullying based on gender identity and expression even if that gender identity or expression does not correspond with the gender assigned at birth or the student’s physical anatomy.

    The Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division begins responding to claims against school districts nationwide for transgender discrimination under Title IX.

  • 2013: Transgender first grade student Coy Mathis wins the right to use girl’s restroom at her Colorado elementary school.
  • 2014/January: Maine transgender student Nicole Maines wins the court case against her former school district for denying her access to the restroom corresponding to her gender identity consistently expressed at school. The decision came from the Maine Supreme Court after a long struggle that included opposition from extremist Christian elements. It is the highest-level court decision ever issued in support of transgender student rights, and sets a nationwide legal precedent.
  • 2015/January: Oregon becomes the first state to cover pubertal suppression treatment for transgender adolescents under it’s state Medicaid plan. This was accomplished as result of testimony and education provided by TransActive Gender Center staff and healthcare advisory team. Oregon also covers a broad array of transgender healthcare needs, including gender confirmation surgery, and under existing state consent laws, these procedures are available to Oregonians age 15 and older.
  • 2015/July: “I Am Jazz” premieres on The Learning Channel network. It is the first major television network reality show about a transgender girl and her supportive family. Coincidentally, Jazz is the same child that entered her Florida kindergarten at age 5 in 2006.

So, yeah…they left a few things out. But then again, it’s all just kid’s stuff.


About jennburleton

Jenn Burleton is the founder and executive director of TransActive Gender Center. An internationally recognized educator and authority on diverse gender identity in children, youth and adults, she is a passionate advocate for the civil and human rights of gender diverse and transgender children, adolescents, teens and their families. She lives in the Pacific Northwest United States with her partner of more than 30 years.
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