Column: After 11 years, Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference is just getting started!

By Joe Ippolito

May 31, 2012, was officially declared “Transgender Health Awareness Day” by Philadelphia Mayor, Michael Nutter, during opening remarks at the 11th Annual Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference (PTHC). PTHC was held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center from May 31 through June 2, 2012. The Mayor’s declaration comes 10 years after Philadelphia’s City Council voted 15-2 to add gender identity to its Fair Practice Ordinance. The Ordinance prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and housing in the City of Philadelphia.

By 1992, only two states, eight counties and 35 cities had passed laws protecting transgender people from discrimination and Philadelphia was one of them. Today, 16 states, including the District of Columbia, and 185 cities and counties have policies like this in place. On a national level, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a watershed ruling on April 23, 2012, granting transgender people federal protections against workplace discrimination.

The issue of workplace discrimination was one of many concerns explored at this year’s PTHC. The conference showcased close to 300 workshops, meetings, film screenings, and special events. According to Nurit Shein, Mazzoni Center’s executive director, “Two thousand four hundred people attended the conference this year, making it the largest transgender gathering in the world.”
PTHC continued its efforts to enhance and diversify programming this year by fostering connections with many new organizations. Collaborations with groups like the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the United Church of Christ Office for Health and Wholeness Advocacy, Gender Reel, PFLAG Philadelphia, Trans-Active Education and Advocacy, the Arcus Foundation and the Open Society Foundation were formed.

While many events at the conference proved successful, some programs were especially popular. The 1st Annual Transgender Medical Education Program, various spiritual gatherings and the youth and kids spaces were among the well-attended. According to Jacsen Callanan, PTHC logistical coordinator, “There were a lot of new events this year. It’s something that we try to do every year; test out new events and gatherings and see how they go.” Callanan described the Trans Medicine Education Initiative, a 3 day intensive training for primary care providers to learn about Trans Medicine as, “Packed to capacity.” He went on to say that, “The Shabbat dinner and prayer service was attended by over 75 people and the Tot space was very well liked by the parents.”

In addition to events specifically organized by the conference, a number of groups organized outside events around the conference. “Still Coming Out,” a fundraiser for the Gender Reel Festival; a dance party by Original Plumbing Magazine; and a Brooklyn Boihood bash were among those events. Laura Brodie, a queer-identified woman who attended PTHC for the first time, was amazed by the turnout, “The energy was extremely positive and inspiring at all of the events I attended.”

In coming years, PTHC organizers plan to continue expanding its reach to mainstream sectors, Shein explains that, “Our goal is to continue educating others about transgender health needs and increase our global reach.” New additions to the conference next year will include a 3-day intensive for mental health and legal providers and an International Surgeon Summit. These and other changes are expected to lead to another jump in attendance in 2013.

Individuals interested in helping to organize the 2013 Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference should contact Coordinator Jacsen Callanan at jacsen@trans-health.org.

Joe is a 42-year-old, trans man who transitioned his gender 10 years ago. A doctor of Psychology, Joe also works as a organizer, researcher and educator. Joe currently works at Abington Memorial Hospital’s Psychiatric Department and teaches in the Masters of Counseling program at Chestnut Hill College. Currently, Joe is Chair of Gender Reel, has been an organizer for the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference for 9 years, and is co-authoring a chapter on aging issues in the book, “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves.”