Trans-wellness conference scores big funding

The Department of Public Health, Thomas Jefferson University and pharmaceutical giant Gilead are among some of the biggest contributors to the 19th annual Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, taking place in July.

TJU, which donated $35,000, is a first-time sponsor of the free Mazzoni Center event dedicated to educating trans, gender-nonconforming and nonbinary individuals, allies and healthcare providers on issues of health and well-being in the transgender community.

Dr. Bernie Lopez, the university’s associate provost for diversity and inclusion, said TJU decided to get behind the conference this year to show its commitment to treating transgender individuals — an area he admitted has been lacking at the institute until recently.

“Our efforts over the years in regards to transgender-patient care have not been where we think they should be, and we are making a significant effort to improve that,” said Lopez. “This is the first step to a lot of activity at Jefferson in regards to LGBTQ-plus healthcare.”

The hope is that the financial commitment also will offer TJU an opportunity to learn more about the needs of trans patients, he added. The university is sponsoring 10 staff members to attend the ProTrack portion of the conference, a series of more-intensive courses geared toward medical professionals. 

“We look at our involvement as an opportunity to provide people better care — that inclusive care that we want all of our patients to get,” said Lopez. “This is something we feel strongly about … to significantly enhance the care of the transgender patient.”

Gilead has donated to the conference for several years, but Darwin Thompson, senior manager of corporate giving, said his company decided to make a larger investment of $30,000 in 2019. 

He told PGN that HIV infection in the transgender community is the company’s main reason for supporting the conference.   

“When we looked at the disparities when it comes to transgender people and HIV infection, we thought it was important to support this conference,” said Thompson. “Transgender-identified individuals are disproportionately more likely to experience discrimination, exclusion and inequality, which leads to higher rates of HIV infection. This conference is working to highlight the need to expand access to the resources the transgender community needs to live longer, healthier lives.”

Gilead plans to have a big presence at the conference. The company is sponsoring a workshop on HIV in the transgender community, and someone from Gilead’s leadership team will show a video and speak prior to the opening reception.

This is at least the 10th year that the Philadelphia Department of Public Health is sponsoring the Trans Wellness Conference, said Coleman Terrell, director of the agency’s AIDS Activities Coordinating Office.

PDPH contributed a grant of $25,000, which Terrell said symbolizes the department’s commitment to “providing competent and affirming services to people of transgender experiences.” 

“We feel it’s important to prioritize programs for transgender individuals in the city,” he added. “It’s important to have this conference to inform people, build community and help us know how to provide better services. We want to affirm and support people, help them live healthy lives and make sure they have access to preventive and care services for HIV.”

While HIV is a particular focus, PDPH’s interest in the conference is all encompassing, said Terrell.

“We like the conference because it’s not just an HIV conference. It really does conceptualize the whole experience. The murders, the discrimination, what the administration is doing nationally in regards to transgender individuals all point to the need to support the community.”

Ashley Coleman, senior events manager at Mazzoni Center, said contributions like these increase accessibility to the conference by keeping it free — one of the founding tenets of the event. 

“We are grateful for our government and corporate sponsors that allow us to uphold the promise made to our founder, Charlene Arcilla, to keep general attendance of PTWC free,” she said. “This includes [free admission to] our after-hours events and specialty spaces, such as the opening-night reception, the [ProTrack] mixer, kids’ camp, a contemplation space and much more.”

Coleman said the funding also has allowed Mazzoni to expand its PTWC Library, where participants can access educational materials and add new events, like a drag-queen story hour for young participants.

The center also is preparing new technology intended to debut at the 2020 PTWC, which includes a new website, app and volunteer hub. 

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