Trans Wellness Conference draws thousands of advocates, educators and youth

Mazzoni Center has hosted the largest free trans conference for 14 years.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Thousands of transgender, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming people and their allies from throughout the United States and dozens of other countries gathered last week in Philadelphia for the 14th annual Trans Wellness Conference hosted by the Mazzoni Center. The event is the largest free trans-specific conference in the world.

Aidan Williams, a North Philadelphia-born and raised youth advocate and educator, said attending the conference makes them feel liberated, included, and safe.

“But,” they added, “Thousands of trans people don’t have access to this space every year.”

Williams holds trainings in Philadelphia schools for LGBT youth on mental health and inclusion in classrooms, such as a trans microaggression workshop last year. On the second day of the convention, they led a seminar called, “Beyond the Trans Binary: Internalized Transphobia,” specifically for the trans, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary community. It featured a discussion on cisnormative standards of passing and how even in the transgender community, nonbinary individuals are held to cisnormative standards.

“I started being interested [in education] after learning about -isms and being a part of teacher professional development days through Temple Power,” they said.

Temple Power is an internship for high school juniors and seniors in which they teach about politics and social movements by making films or public service announcements about issues that youth face.

“Everybody should have the chance to be in a space and feel as welcome as I do,” they said.

This year’s Trans Wellness Conference was held July 25-27 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Companies and organizations focused on housing, therapy, gender-affirming gear, religion, feminism, health insurance, and surgery participated in the event. An Interdisciplinary Review Committee — whose members are all LGBT volunteers or staff at Mazzoni — approved all vendors and programming at the conference.

A nonprofit organization called Points of Pride traveled from Oregon to attend the event. The trans-run group’s mission is to bring gender-affirming care to those in need. Aydian Dowling started the organization as a T-shirt company to fund his top surgery, and later turned it into a nonprofit to give back to those who helped him.

“Many people turn to binder burning once they get their top surgery,” said Tyler, one of the Points of Pride volunteers at the conference. “But those binders could go to other people.”

Point of Pride has been able to make that happen for three years. At the conference and on their website, free, donated gently used binders and bras are given to anyone in need of them.

“Here, we get to see people we’ve helped out. We get to put names to faces, and I love that,” said Tyler.

(Aishah Fasasi / The Notebook)

Grace Schliesman. Photo by Aishah Fasasi

Grace Schliesman, a queer artist and educator from Minneapolis, heard about the conference on Instagram and came to share their art.

“People can find their own meaning in art,” Schliesman said. “But here was a chance for other queer people to see [my art] as it was originally intended.”

Although Schliesman likes being able to contrast feminine and masculine aspects in their art, they also often include mental health in that mix.

“Having the opportunity to see such a large community form, talk, and build relationships is important,” said Schliesman. “It’s what drew me in.”