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Legacy in the News: Transgender at 10

Randall Children’s Hospital transforms medicine by compassionately caring for kids and teens who are transgender

Willamette Week cover story

August 6, 2014

People move to Portland for all sorts of reasons—a new job, the pace of life, the outdoors. Albert and Leigh came for an entirely different purpose.

Three months ago, they left the Everglades and their extended family because they have a 10-year-old daughter who was born a boy. And they were convinced that Portland was the best place to raise her. Their child, whose name has been legally changed from Reed to Lynne.

Seven years ago, few mainstream doctors could have told Albert and Leigh what was really going on when their toddler began showing a strong preference for dresses and dolls.

But in the past few years, American medicine has transformed its attitudes about helping kids express their true gender even as research is still in its infancy.

This June, the Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel launched the T-Clinic, where pediatric endocrinologist Karin Selva, M.D. sees dozens of transgender adolescents. She’s enlisted the help of psychologist Laura Edwards-Leeper, who developed the country’s first protocol for assessing transgender youth.

Albert finally accepted that his son should have been born a girl. But they hadn’t yet considered the logistics of their daughter’s transition. So, In May 2013, Leigh and Albert attended the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference. That’s where they met Jenn Burleton, Executive Director of TransActive.

Today, she’s one of 12 volunteers (they have one paid staffer) who work with families across the country, including 350 in the Portland area, on a budget of less than $100,000 a year.

Children and parents nationwide reach out to TransActive confused, angry or excited. The staff help children come out to their parents, help parents understand their children, and intervene with schools, employers, police and the courts.

Medicine Transformed

Dr. Karin Selva has treated a lot of kids with diabetes as an endocrinologist at Randall Children’s Diabetes and Endocrine Center. But in 2011, she met one young man whose health was failing in spite of treatment. 

“When he came in, everyone was worried about him,” Selva says.  

His hair hung over his face. He wouldn’t look up. Then he disclosed that he felt like he was born in the wrong body.  

“We had started hearing rumblings about transgender youth,” Selva says. She connected the youth with a mental health professional and eventually placed the teen on hormone therapy.

Last fall, Selva approached Sevket Yigit, M.D., medical director of pediatric endocrinology at Randall Children’s Hospital. She wanted to start a clinic especially for transgender kids.  

Yigit was aware of studies that showed soaring rates of depression, drug abuse and suicide among transgender youth. The San Francisco Unified School District, for example, surveyed middle-school children in 2011 and discovered that 50 percent of transgender kids had attempted suicide, compared to 6 percent of straight youth. 

A more hopeful study suggests that number can change: 92 percent of gay and transgender teens who had very accepting families said they believed they could mature into happy adults. 

Yigit helped Selva secure $25,000 in seed money from the Randall Children’s Hospital Foundation.  

“If we treat them early, then when they’re adults, no one needs to know,” Selva says. “I don’t want them to be known as the man in the dress, where they have to shave and wear a wig. I want them to live normal, happy, fulfilled lives.”

Read the entire story.

Contact Maegan Vidal for comments.