Philly conference on transgender health opens with ceremony commemorating beloved founder

The 16th annual Philadelphia Trans Health Conference kicked off with workshops and talks aimed at educating patients and providers about issues affecting the health and well-being of the transgender community.

Conference-goers fresh off their first day of activities gathered in the African American Museum in Philadelphia Thursday night for an opening reception and the presentation of an award named after the event’s founder.

The conference drew people from across the region and country for the opportunities for education and community-building it offers.

“Things I never knew, I’m finally learning,” said Alisha King of the Bronx, New York.

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Jessica Hawkins of Washington, D.C., said she was getting pointers on securing insurance coverage for transgender medical procedures.

“I got several surgeries covered already, but there’s one more left that has to be covered, so we’ll see what happens,” Hawkins said.

Others said that bonding with other people who can relate to their experiences was reason enough to attend.

“I think one of the most important parts for everyone who transitions is like, having friends, having a community to turn to, and that’s one of the biggest things that I think I’m getting out of here,” said Abby Stein, a transgender woman who was raised as a boy in an ultra-orthodox Jewish enclave in Brooklyn, New York.

Stein, 25, was presenting at three different sessions this year, including one giving advice to Jewish institutions that want to be more inclusive of transgender people.

Organizers were expecting over 4,000 people this year for nearly 300 workshops and presentations on topics ranging from religious life to gender reassignment surgery. The conference continues through Saturday.

Dozens of them came out for the reception Thursday night, which featured a ceremony for the Charlene Arcila Pioneer Award. Arcila founded the conference in 2000, when just 70 people attended. She’s also known for a successful fight to get SEPTA to remove gender labels from fare passes.

“Charlene was a visionary who thought up the idea of a trans conference in Philadelphia,” said Chris Paige, a member of the conference’s planning committee. “I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like Charlene who knew her. She was just such a warm, spirited presence.”

Arcila died in 2015, and this was the second year the award was being given to someone who’s worked to build the conference.

This year’s winner was Janis Stacy, a conference co-chair who has served on the planning committee since 2007. Her list of other accomplishments includes working for federal legislation promoting transgender health insurance coverage.

“I’m just doing the work that comes in front of me,” Stacy said. “Following in Charlene’s footsteps is … is an honor.”

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