This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, hosted by the Mazzoni Center every year since 2006, starts Thursday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The three-day gathering, which brings LGBTQ groups and allies of all ages from across the country, focuses on the mental and physical health concerns in transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary communities. It is the largest free convention of its kind.
The Mazzoni Center, at 13th and Bainbridge Streets, has been known for providing free HIV and STI testing, support groups, therapy, and primary care for the LGBTQ community since 1981. They have also educated Philadelphia students over the years through programs like Brave Schools and Yes, PLEASE!
Activist Charlene Arcila, who died in 2015, founded the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference in 2000. After the conference partnered with the Mazzoni Center, it grew from one day to three. Activities include general workshops for transgender and gender non-conforming people and their allies and a track for professionals to formally educate those who work with these individuals.
Workshops and seminars are chosen by the members of the Interdisciplinary Review Committee (IRC), who are all trans, gender non-conforming, or nonbinary community members, and staff of the Mazzoni. This year, there are sessions about chest binding health, traveling while trans, and the experience of intersectional trans folks, or those who also belong to other marginalized communities.
Due to the popularity of the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, a space for youth ages 12-18 was created in 2016 a comfortable distance away from the other workshops.
To the Mazzoni staff, it is necessary for the teenagers to get their own space. Ashley Coleman, senior events manager at the Mazzoni Center, is a firm believer in youth getting chances to create, teach, learn, and share.
“[The youth space is] a place for the next generation to build community and discuss how they are going to change the world,” said Coleman. “They’re the future of our movement.”
The youth space connects trans teens, promotes learning, allows for a healthy and respectful discussion between participants, and is fun at the same time. In the past, activities included Queer Theatre as Empathy, Know Your Rights, and Guitar 101.
This weekend, the Mazzoni staff are excited to showcase the wide variety of new activities that has been cultivated. On Saturday, the youth space is being co-facilitated by the Haven Youth Group, which hails from Bethlehem, Pa.
“I am thrilled to be involved with such an important organization in PTWC,” said Coleman. “They saved my queer life.”
Aishah Fasasi, a rising senior at Mastery-Thomas, is a Philadelphia high school intern working at the Notebook through a WHYY summer work program.