Jaymie Campbell: The A-Z, focus on the T, of the Trans-Health Conference


The Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference has always been an informative and powerful event, but I imagine that, with the recent anti-LGBT (especially T) backlash that we’re witnessing around the country, this year might have special urgency.



Presented by Mazzoni Center, the mission of the PTHC is to “educate and empower trans individuals on issues of health and well-being; educate and inform allies and health-service providers; and facilitate networking, community-building and systemic change.” The conference spans three days and includes a variety of workshops (I counted more than 75 just the first day), keynote speakers, a drop-in legal clinic, a Shabbat dinner, a pool party, club parties and more. And did I mention that admission is free?


Our profile this week is Jaymie Campbell. He helps plan the conference and is responsible for the coordination and implementation of professional-development trainings for medical providers, behavioral-health providers, educators and community organizations. He is the professional-development manager at Mazzoni Center and a fourth-year doctoral candidate in Widener University’s Human Sexuality Studies doctorate program.


PGN: Who is Jaymie Campbell?

JC: Who is Jaymie Campbell … it’s me. [Laughs] Get ready, it’s going to be one of those interviews …


PGN: Hey, I’m not afraid to kick your shins if you get too smart with me! OK, where are you from?

JC: I consider myself bicoastal: I was born in Philly and raised in the suburbs but I’ve spent half my life in California. I moved to San Francisco, and that’s when I first found out that I had an accent. I called my mom and said, “Mom, did you know we had an accent?” and she was like, “Get out!” So it’s been nice to be back where everyone talks like me. But it’s funny, a lot of people don’t think I’m from here because I’m a little too laidback and have kind of a hippy-dippy vibe.


PGN: I’ve noticed! Tell me a little about the family.

JC: My mom worked for the Philadelphia School District for 33 years. She worked in 17 different schools. She did a number of things; she was an English teacher, a counselor and a cluster leader and my father was a doctor. My grandmother was a principal at Rhodes Middle School.


PGN: Ah, so that’s why your bio seems like you’re perennially in school. A question I wrote for you was, “Do you just have a thing for homework? Because it seems like your education doesn’t stop.”

JC: Yes, yes. Whenever people ask what degree I’m working on, I always say, “the last one.” I really like creating new information, I really love research, so yeah.


PGN: Talk about your educational background.

JC: Well, it took me nine years to get my four-year degree. Right out of high school, I started working at Starbucks, which was fun, then went to junior college at UC Santa Cruz and got a bachelor of arts in feminist studies. I loved learning about social justice and different intersections of oppression. I wasn’t just reading about it; we had people like Angela Davis as professors, people who were part of real movements. I started getting involved in the nonprofit world working with homeless African-Americans 40-65 years old, a lot of folks dealing with mental-health issues, addictions and with queer and trans youth. I thought I wanted to be a therapist and got a master of arts in counseling psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco — until I realized doing clinical work that I don’t like to sit and listen to people talk! But I really loved researching the interventions to use in therapy and I love teaching and talking about sexuality, so I got my master’s in education with an emphasis in human sexuality from Widener University, and I’m now pursuing a Ph.D. in human-sexual studies.


PGN: Phew! Any siblings?

JC: I’m the youngest of three. We’re spaced apart, with each of us born in a different decade, so my mom likes to say she has three only children. We’re all very unique but very close.


PGN: What were you like as a kid?

JC: [Laughs] Gosh, I can picture my mom’s face right now saying, “Go on Jaym, tell her.” I was very active, I was in musical theater, I played a lot of sports, I was in honors gym and involved in a lot of clubs. There were also a lot of trips to the ER. I was always climbing trees or falling through the roof trying to get my soccer ball, that sort of thing. I have a niece and my sister’s really good at dealing with her because she has “a black belt in Jaymie.” I broke every bone in my left arm falling out of a tree, but the good news was that I had a cast that was bigger than my body for my yearbook picture. My mom used to come to each game but having to drive from the city, she’d just make it so she’d watch from the car where she could see the field. When I would score, I’d turn and look into the parking lot to make sure she saw it and she’d stick her hand out the window and cheer.


PGN: Who was your best friend?

JC: We moved around a lot so whoever was nice to me when I was the new kid.


PGN: Do you think that inspired you to want to help other people?

JC: I don’t know. My mother said that I would get very upset as a kid when I thought things weren’t fair. Having to go to bed at a certain time, I’d complain that it wasn’t fair and my mom would respond, “Life’s not fair.” And that really bothered me. I’ve been a really big Batman fan since I was 9 and part of that was a desire for justice.


PGN: What was your coming-out process?

JC: My mom at first was really afraid; she’s from a different generation and she’s seen a lot of LGBT black folks who didn’t make it. That’s one of the reasons I moved to California, but I really missed them and Philly these days is not bad for LGBTQ folks so I came back. One of the things that was hard in San Francisco was that there weren’t a lot of people of color. They may be ahead in the LGBT movement but they’re behind in the race conversation. My mom became a fierce ally and helped educate other family members. When I came back for holidays the family would be like, “You can bring someone, it’s OK; we just want you around and we’re going to love who you love.” I hate when people talk about black folks not being accepting; my 90-year-old grandmother is single-handedly keeping the Inquirer in business. She reads the paper every day and then cuts out articles she thinks pertain and saves them for me. Don’t get me wrong, I know that it’s a struggle for a lot of people and there aren’t a lot of out people of color in the public eye. We’re all waiting for people who are rumored to be gay, like Tyler Perry, to come out.


PGN: Tell me about your training programs on trans and LGBT issues.

JC: I love when I have a group of people of color, especially older, because I tell them, “I know what you’re thinking and where you’re coming from. Let’s have a conversation.” You have to let people go through the process instead of trying to force them to get on board.


PGN: Ever face direct confrontation?

JC: I did a training and afterwards a man came up and said that he really didn’t like what I had to say, and told me to step outside with him. I experience micro aggressions as a trainer all the time, so I was like, “Yeah, I’m not doing that.”


PGN: Explain what you mean by micro aggressions. That’s something that you teach about.

JC: Yes, a micro aggression is an everyday act of discrimination that targets a specific individual or group. It’s a micro aggression not because it’s smaller and insignificant but because it’s individual. A macro aggression would be something like segregation in schools or when someone puts “Blacks and Latinos need not apply” on their dating profile. A micro aggression is when people see me as a black man and say things like, “You’re so non-threatening.” Like, wow, what did you expect? Or, “You’re so articulate or attractive for a black person.” It’s personal with an underlying message of oppression. A gender-based example might be when people complain, “It’s just really hard for me to get your pronouns right because you don’t look like a boy (or girl).” So you’re saying I don’t deserve respect because I don’t meet your idea of what a boy or girl should look like? Or the questions around body parts: “Did you have the surgery?” There are over 100 different procedures that a trans person can elect to have and it’s incredibly personal. It involves access to money and the ability to take time off and a lot of different things. I tell people that it’s none of your business unless you’re that person’s medical provider or on a date with them and then it’s a two-drink-minimum question.


PGN: Do you do a lot of work with kids?

JC: I used to coordinate the Ally Safe Schools program at Mazzoni. A lot of schools are getting their first transgender students — that they know of because, of course, we know that trans students have been attending schools without disclosing that information for a long time. There’s a lot of fear in the schools — what to do about the bathrooms and gym class, how they can be supportive, etc. — so they bring me in for teacher training and oftentimes they bring me back for student trainings. The kids are a lot more progressive than the adults; they don’t care about bathrooms.


PGN: What do people want to know?

JC: Why pronouns are so important, and it’s like, “Well, you have the privilege of not worrying about being policed in the bathroom or whether or not your insurance is going to be able to bill for your services, but it’s an issue for many.”


PGN: Bill for lecture services or do you mean medical treatment?

JC: Medical, like if you’re male and you need a Pap smear or female and have a prostate, how does that get covered? If your provider doesn’t even know how to have a conversation about that or you ask and they’re confused, it presents a problem.


PGN: How did the conference get started and why is it so important?

JC: The conference was started in 2000 by Charlene Arcila. It started out small and has grown tremendously; we’re expecting more than 4,000 people this year from all over the world. The theme of the 2016 Trans-Health Conference is “Honoring Our Roots.” We lost her last year so the conference is giving the first Charlene Arcila Pioneer Award in her honor. The needs of the community revolve a lot around safety; we’ve had huge gains like with the Department of Education and people talking about it, but we still have these anti-trans bills being passed and something like 24 trans women were murdered last year. There’s still a lot of hate and violence and a lot of work to be done.


PGN: For sure. So what do you do when not battling to change lives?

JC: I love riding my bike; I could ride up and down the Schuylkill Trail all day, every day! I do hot yoga to keep me grounded and focused. It also keeps me from getting injured because I like to jump off of things and run really fast. I love Netflix. I think I’m one of 10 people still watching “Grey’s Anatomy.” That’s my jam. Big fan of Shonda Rhimes.


PGN: Describe Philly in a tweet.

JC: I love Philly so much: It’s not New York, it’s not D.C., it’s better.


PGN: A favorite family member?

JC: My grandmom, Dr. Dora W. Campbell, she went back to college at 40, took one class at a time at community college, went to Temple for her bachelor’s and then got a doctorate in education at 60-something years old.


PGN: The last thing you lost?

JC: [Laughs] My mind! We’re a week from the conference!


PGN: Who’s your celebrity crush?

JC: You know, I still love me some Janet Jackson. I still haven’t gotten down the choreography to “Rhythm Nation,” but I’ll get it.


PGN: A favorite gift that you gave or got?

JC: My best friend of 15 years lives in California and she has two daughters. They’re grown now but I’ve known them since they were kids. They’ve had a big influence on me and I’ve secretly kept a book of things that they’ve said to me or to each other or their mom. My best friend has a terrible memory so I gave it to her as a great keepsake of their stories and memories. I was really proud of that.


PGN: Something you really wanted as a kid?

JC: I really wanted to see “Cats” on Broadway; we got tickets but for some reason didn’t end up going. Years later, I saw it and couldn’t figure why I wanted to see it in the first place. I didn’t connect with the music at all!


PGN: So let’s wrap up back at the conference. What is the name of the workshop you’re presenting?

JC: It’s called Foundations for Working With Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming Populations and we’ll be providing foundational concepts for working with transgender and gender-nonconforming populations. We’ll go through a thorough review of the most current language, practices and resources for working with patients in both medical and behavioral-health settings so it’s a good way to start at the conference. Hope to see everyone there!


For more information about the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, visit www.mazzonicenter.org/trans-health.


To suggest a community member for Family Portrait, email [email protected].