Philly welcomes annual Trans Wellness Conference

Understanding the legal rights of trans people who are traveling internationally. Strategies for healing from top surgery or binding. Effective communication and self-care skills for partners of trans and nonbinary folks.

These topics headline workshops at the 19th iteration of Mazzoni’s annual Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference that about 10,000 from across the United States are coming to Philadelphia to attend. Hailed as the largest free trans-specific conference in the world, the event explores health, spiritual and social issues experienced by the trans community. It will take place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center from July 25-27.

The gathering aims to emphasize community-building, educate and empower transpeople and inform health care providers and allies. It is divided into a free general track for the public and a paid professional track, which is a continuing-education program focused on clinical knowledge and cultural competency for professionals who work with trans, gender nonconforming and nonbinary individuals. Pro-track signups pay a fee for continuing education credits and can choose a medical, behavioral health or legal focus.

Transgender stand-up comedian and actor Dina Nina Martinez, who has performed at venues including Los Angeles Pride and The Chicago Women’s Funny Festival, will be the keynote speaker for the general track. Anneliese A. Singh, associate dean of the University of Georgia’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in its College of Education, will appear as the professional track’s keynote speaker. Singh is cofounder of the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition, which fights LGBTQ oppression in the state’s educational institutions.

Other conference workshops will explore trans rights in criminal court and prison and the intersection of living with a disability while being intersex. Representatives from The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on LGBTQ suicide prevention, will attend to discuss the results of its recent survey that found 39 percent of LGBTQ youth in the United States considered suicide in the last year.

Larry Benjamin, director of communications at Mazzoni Center, said people attended last year’s conference from all 50 states and countries including Nigeria, Australia and England. He described the event as an “affirming space,” and recalled speaking with a young trans man from Alabama who told Benjamin that until he “walked into the convention center, he had never been in a room full of people who looked like him, who understood his journey.”

“Anybody who grew up LGBTQ, you have that sense of aloneness until you find your community,” Benjamin said. “One of the big pieces I’ve heard from the conference’s people is that sense of community. It’s a safe space. Everybody gets them. They can be themselves.”

Charlene Arcila, a trans woman of color who was known for her activism in the trans, faith, recovery and HIV and AIDS communities, founded the conference in its original form as the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. Arcila died in 2015.

In 2007, Arcila made history by filing a discrimination complaint with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations about the gender markers that were issued on SEPTA transportation passes at the time. The filing prompted a multi-year legal battle that made its way to the state Supreme Court before the markers were officially removed in summer 2013.

Mazzoni Center, in tandem with State Sen. Larry Farnese, has reached out to SEPTA in hopes of dubbing the organization the official mode of transportation for the conference. They are awaiting a response on the decision, Benjamin said, which would show “how far [the company] has come” since its standoff with Arcila.

“With so many people coming out to the city and not knowing their way around, we thought that would be great for them to feel welcomed by the biggest public transportation agency in Philadelphia,” he added.

Other sponsors include the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Philly AIDS Thrift, Planned Parenthood Southeastern PA, Comcast and Jefferson Health.

On July 26, a networking mixer will take place for participants in the program’s professional track, and Euphoria, the official dance party of the event, will take over Tabu Lounge & Sports Bar.

The conference will also offer programming for kids and young adults, including “Youth Space,” an initiative for those ages 12-18. Young people can attend these sessions, facilitated by Mazzoni Center staff, that explore topics like gender, knowing your rights and mindfulness.