Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference holds even more meaning after COVID-19

Every year, the Mazzoni Center kicks off the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, which calls the City of Brotherly Love home, at the height of the summer. This event is aimed to be a beacon of hope and resource for those who need it most, but last year, the difficult decision to postpone the largest free trans-specific conference in the world was made.

Luckily, 2021 has not undergone the same fate.

This year the conference is back, but it is going to look a bit different post-COVID. The event will be held virtually, but will feature the same format, offering essential workshops and programming over a three-day period from July 22 to 25.

“A virtual conference certainly made some of our usual workshops a little harder to pull off in a virtual setting,” says Dani Murano-Kinney (they/them/theirs), Logistics Coordinator of the Conference for the Center. “I think we’ve been able to keep a nice sense of consistency with some classic programs such as show and tells and discussion groups. The virtual pivot has also allowed us the opportunity to bring in workshops we wouldn’t normally have be able to facilitate for reasons of distance, access, etc.”

The Trans Wellness Conference was started in 2000 by Charlene Arcila, when she decided that resources and support were scarce “for people who were most marginalized in the communities.” According to the website, to meet that need, she established the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, which began as a one-day event providing professionals training on how to become competent health care providers for transgender patients. Arcila then remained involved with the conference for many years after it became a program of the Mazzoni Center in 2006 by serving as Planning Committee Co-Chair and People of Color Working Group Lead.

The descriptions shed a light on some of the magnitude, but if you ask those who work at The Mazzoni Center, it’s almost too hard to put into words what the Trans Wellness Conference means.

“That’s a really big question,” says Murano-Kinney. “I think in a wonderful way, there’s a lot of different answers to this question depending on who you are and how you come to it. I think in the largest sense, this conference aims to improve the material conditions of trans people through education.

“That was the goal back when it was a one or two room event organized by founders June Dizon, Charlene Arcila, and Ben Singer, among many other community members. It’s obviously grown since then, but the goal is still the same, to ensure that trans folks receive the kinds of care and nourishment we deserve. Sometimes that happens by way of discussion groups, seminars, Q&As, educating the folks providing those services to us.”

Murano-Kinney was hired in September 2020 well after the canceled conference and had to work to see what the event would look like after a global pandemic.

“[I was] diving into a new position, a new institution, amidst an ongoing pandemic; that added a lot of complexity to an already complex job,” they explain. “But it was also highly motivating. Struggling through obstacles, building relationships, and really doing the work always wore that weight of knowing the community didn’t get this conference experience last year.

“I know a virtual conference is new territory, and this is certainly among the largest virtual conferences I’ve seen in terms of volume of content. And there were a lot of unknowns about planning a virtual conference, especially on this scale. That said, I’m excited to be bringing this community something that feels so vital, particularly now. This week will be the culmination of ten straight months of blood, sweat, and tears and I’m proud of what we’re able to provide this year.”

Some exciting changes for 2021 involve the Youth Space for the Conference.

“One of the many challenges I encountered in our planning was the need to start from scratch in developing Youth Space content with only a few months to work,” Murano-Kinney explains. “The silver lining of this was we were able to bring in some new organization such The Trevor Project, and the possibly lesser known Trans Youth Advisory Board (TYAB) of HiTOPS Princeton. TYAB are a bunch of brilliant young folks who run the Trans Youth Forum, an entirely peer lead event, focusing on trans wellness and I’m so excited for them to be leading workshops on Saturday in Youth Space.”

They also went into just how surreal it feels to have this conference back after such a challenging year with COVID-19.

“I’ll get a little candid [here] and say that I recognize how challenging this year has been for world at large, and particularly for the trans community. The last ten months have been full of obstacle, curve balls, and learning-curves. Through it all though, I’ve tried with every bit of myself to bring this conference to life. I’ve tried to approach each conversation with attendees, peers, speakers, committee members, the curious public, the media, with love. I think that’s what the conference is all about: To come full circle from the initial question.

“It is about building trans love and trans power, together at a time where much of the world wants to break us down. The conference is a reminder that while trans rage keeps us safe, it’s trans love that keeps us fed. And every year, we’re going to keep committing to doing all that we can to provide that opportunity to build trans love.”

For more information on the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Center and the Mazzoni Center, visit mazzonicenter.org

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