Philly conference focuses on health, well-being of transgender community

     A transgender flag at City Hall in Philadelphia welcomed the recent Trans Health Conference. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    A transgender flag at City Hall in Philadelphia welcomed the recent Trans Health Conference. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    People across the country and throughout the world are commending Caitlyn Jenner on her transition from male to female. However, myriad problems await transgender people just down the street and within their communities.

    Discrimination, violence, and ridicule still plague the transgender community, as many attending the Philadelphia Trans Health Conferenceat the Pennsylvania Convention Center will attest. Vendors at the event are highlighting those problems and offering help to the LGBT community.


    Karl Surkan, a female to male transgender person, has been diagnosed with cancer but has had difficulty getting proper information about his illness because doctors were unsure what triggered the cancer in the first place.

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    Transgender people need quality care because their bodies undergo many tumultuous changes, Surkan said. They also need friendly health providers who will not discriminate against them.

    Because of his experience, Surkan co-founded TransRecord, a crowd-sourcing website where people can rate their primary health professionals, locate superior care physicians, and find help in their area.

    “Finding a provider is very, very difficult for many trans people,” Surkan said. “In emergency situations, it can be quite dangerous. We know of at least two cases, where trans people died because when they called emergency medical technicians, called 911, they were refused care.”

    Health care, treatment and emergency transportation are refused to transgender people or gender-nonconforming people at a rate of about 19 percent, according to the results of a 2008 national transgender survey. Surkan said that rate is higher for people of color who are transgender or gender nonconforming.

    translifelineTrans Lifeline, a suicide hotline for transgender people, offers information and enlists volunteers at the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference at Pennsylvania Convention Center. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    “There’s a high degree of discrimination against transgender people,” said Jillian Weiss, an attorney based in New York and New Jersey. “There have been a number of studies that show a very high unemployment rate and underemployment rate. People with credentials and experience, who have to take entry-level jobs because of discrimination.”

    Weiss, who specializes in representing transgender people who have been fired, said only 5 percent of those cases do not involve discrimination as a factor in termination.

    Nevertheless, it’s not all bad.

    “We have found that, over the years, more and more churches are becoming welcoming of the LGBT community,” said the Rev. Jeffrey H. Jordan, pastor of Whosoever Metropolitan Church in West Philadelphia.

    The conference continues through Saturday.

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