Trans-Health Conference opens in Philadelphia with emphasis on aging

By Joe Ippolito

Photo: Joe interview Bill Coghill during the 2011 conference

The number of transgender people moving toward middle age and beyond is increasing rapidly.  Baby boomers began turning 65 years old in 2011 and many of those boomers are transgender people.  To help address the needs of the growing transgender aging populations, the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference (PTHC), is showcasing thirteen workshops on aging issues this week in Philadelphia, PA.

PTHC is a free, three-day conference held annually for transgender people, their allies, friends, partners, families and children.  This year’s conference is being held at the Philadelphia Convention Center from May 31 through June 2.

According to PTHC’s logistical coordinator, Jacsen Callanan, “Conference organizers recognize the importance of exploring aging issues now that so many transgender people are entering this phase of their lives.”  Callanan says that, “It wasn’t until the early ‘90s that the concept of being ‘transgender’ was really introduced and more people began to access information about transitioning. Twenty years later, many transgender people are moving into the category of ‘senior citizen.’”

This year, PTHC’s organizers have made a strong effort to enhance programming about aging issues.  Activists acknowledge that advocating for trans elder’s rights and issues is going to take hard work and dedication.  The first step is already underway with the release of a groundbreaking policy brief and report by Services and Advocacy For Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders at this year’s conference.  This one of a kind report, entitled “Improving the Lives of Transgender Elders,” looks at the striking inequalities faced by older transgender people.

The policy brief confirms that transgender and non-trans elders tackle many of the same issues, such as sickness, loss of mobility, death of a spouse and transportation problems. For the average transgender elder, however, the process of aging can be far more challenging, especially when you add issues including discrimination, oppression and ignorance to the mix.  The report highlights some of the primary issues faced by transgender seniors today:

  • Difficulty finding trans-competent practitioners
  • Post-transition estrangement from family of origin and/or adult children
  • Financial problems due to lack of employment and/or multiple job losses
  • Homelessness
  • Trans-specific health related problems
  • Non-inclusive long-term and/or nursing care housing facilities
  • Increased isolation due to fear of discrimination.
  • Higher rates of victimization, especially for trans seniors of color
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Exclusion of care by health insurance companies

Another startling statistic impacting trans seniors is the high rate of suicide.  Self-harming to rid one’s self of the emotional, mental and physical pain associated with being trans and growing older is not uncommon.  According to the policy brief, 16% of transgender people who are 65 and over reported attempting suicide at one point in their life.

Workshops addressing the needs of transgender seniors at PTHC this Thursday include:

  • Trans Pioneers of Color
  • What do 1467 Trans-Identified people From 15 Countries Say About Getting Old
  • LGBT Elder Initiative: Trans At The Table
  • Improving the Quality of Services and Supports Offered to LGBT Older Adults

Workshops addressing the needs of transgender seniors at PTHC this Friday include:

  • Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers: Exploring Aging Issues in Trans Male Communities,
  • Finding the Tools you need from the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging
  • Transgender Older Adults: Supporting Successful Aging
  • Growing Old Gracefully: The Transgender Experience 

Workshops addressing the needs of transgender seniors at PTHC this Saturday include:

  • Being Trans and Aging
  • Late Life, End of Life Concerns and the Creating of Legacy

If you are interested in attending one of these workshops or would like more information about the entire conference schedule, please go to PTHC’s website at www.trans-health.org or call (215) 563-0652.

Joe Ippolito, PsyD, LCSW, practices at Abington Memorial Hospital in suburban Philadelphia, PA.  He is an adjunct professor at Chestnut Hill College and is the founder and chair of Gender Reel, an annual multi-media arts festival held each year in Philadelphia.  Ippolito is the writer and director of the upcoming documentary, “Getting Old Gracefully.”