The Philadelphia Trans Health Conference is currently taking place from June 13-15 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, PA. Sponsored by the Mazzoni Center, the annual conference draws thousands of transgender and gender-nonconforming people as well as LGBTQ allies. On Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend the conference with several colleagues on behalf of my workplace, and the experience was a delight.* (Being across the street from the Reading Terminal Market and its delicacies didn't hurt either!)
I wanted to blog on the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference because of what it teaches the world about the transgender community. The Religious Right has doggedly opposed equality for LGBTQ persons and promoted attitudes that delegitimize transgender and gender-nonconforming people. However, events like this are proof that the transgender community is strong and vocal, determined to create a place for itself in the world.
What immediately struck me was how welcoming and safe the conference space felt. The mood in the air was cheerful, and the thousands of attendees from all walks of life were friendly. When I noticed that many teenagers and young adults were present, I was relieved that the conference gave them a supportive space to be themselves.
The schedule was an embarrassment of riches, with dozens of workshops on parenting, romantic relationships, employment, health issues, social justice, and the arts. The workshops were also reminders that many groups make up the transgender community, and that transgender identity intersects with race, national origin, age, disability, religion, and many other identities.
For me, a strong reminder of this intersectionality was a workshop I attended on Thursday morning, "Transitioning Times Two: Exploring the Journeys, Challenges, and Hopes of Trans Refugees". The workshop explored the struggles and hopes of those who are both transgender and refugees or asylum seekers, highlighting the discrimination, violence, administrative hurdles, and resettlement challenges that they encounter.
Yet another reminder of this intersectionality was a workshop I attended in the afternoon, "Violence and Trauma in the Lives of Transgender Older Adults". Presented by FORGE, the workshop discussed discrimination and violence experienced by transgender persons across the lifespan, and the impact victimization has on their physical and mental health. The workshop also shed light on the unique characteristics of transgender elders that can give them resiliency and insight.
Transgender persons experience disproportionate levels of violent victimization, but their experiences with law enforcement and the criminal justice system are not always positive. "Transgender Injustice: Police Encounters and Incarceration" discussed these negative experiences, reminding attendees of their rights and of advocacy groups working to help.
I was struck by the conference's attention to faith and spirituality, a reminder that the transgender community is giving voice to dynamic interpretations of faith. The conference featured workshops on transgender spirituality from Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, pagan, Unitarian Universalist, and Native American traditions. Rituals and active spiritual practices also took place, including a transgender-led Catholic mass, Native American smudge and drumming circles, and a yoga session. Transfaith, an interfaith nonprofit, hosted a conference pre-event on June 12th for attendees of all spiritual paths.
Such displays of belief show that spirituality is dynamic, and that transphobic interpretations of religion are not the only interpretations. The Religious Right would do well to remember that its rigid notions of sexuality and gender identity are not shared by all believers, and that its views on religion are not the last word.
The Philadelphia Trans Health Conference gave me confidence that many people are striving to transform communities and foster social justice. After blogging so much on Religious Right voices that stuff life into binary boxes of saved/unsaved, righteous/sinful, male/female, and heterosexual/"abomination", it's refreshing to be among people who reject those black-and-white categories. The attendees and programs were a reminder that the world is a dizzying, colorful reality that can't be confined to any binary.
To learn more about the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, click here. To learn more about the Mazzoni Center, click here.
* Except for driving to Philadelphia on the Pennsylvania Turnpike through torrential downpours, lightning, and the occasional spray of hail.