The Mazzoni Center – this city’s primary caretaking and guidance facility for the LGBTQ community – wants you to know that it is listening. When it comes to this week's Trans Wellness Conference, now in its 17th year, Mazzoni’s brain trust paid attention to what the 7,000-plus attendees of its 2017 conference liked then, and what they needed for their health and wellbeing going forward.
“We keep our ears to the ground at the end of each trans conference, and have formal evaluations for every workshop, as well as the entire event,” said Ashley Coleman, the Mazzoni’s senior events manager in charge of the annual Trans Wellness Conference, its logistical support, and for “putting out fires” when needed.
“We look online, on Queer Exchange Philly and other meet-up groups, and any platforms where people are voicing their opinions and valid criticism,” said Oliver de Luz, Mazzoni’s internal and external events planner, and volunteer coordinator. ”We want to make sure that, whatever we do there, that we are uplifting the trans community.”
The mission of the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference (PTWC) is to educate and empower trans individuals (as well as their families and friends who are welcome to attend all events) on issues of health and well-being. That doesn’t only involve physical health service providers and issues, but spiritual, psychological and social issues as well. There are serious networking and community-building exercises and events. There is also a fun screening of “KIKI,” and a meet-and-greet with one of its central avatars, “Chi Chi.” The film is a documentary on the Kiki community and their spectacular performance balls. For those who followed the FX Network’s “Pose,” or for those walking for realness, this film is a must.
Trans Wellness Conference a welcome space for all
Coleman and de Luz both have only been with Mazzoni and its Trans Wellness Conference, for two years, and know well the event’s long history and powerful legacy.
“Knowing that, this year we wanted to be even more intentional, and more inclusionary with all of our programming and all of the outsourcing," said Coleman. “Our major focus last year and this year has been around making sure that whatever we purchased, and whomever we are contacting, that we’re going to trans folk, queer folk and people of color and not buying from those that aren’t queer and environmentally friendly, or ruining our planet, socially and environmentally.”
In terms of including all cultures and creeds in Philadelphia, while last year’s TWC opening reception was at the African American History Museum, this year’s introductory gala is at the American Jewish History Museum. “As well as having dedicated diverse spaces that bring further education to our community, we want to share in different stories,” said de Luz.
Another fresh focus of Mazzoni’s Trans Wellness Conference regards educational programs for kids and the addition of youth spaces for those looking to gather and fraternize. “As a former educator, I saw a lack of programming at the TWC for our kiddos,” said Coleman. “They’re going to save all of our lives, and the world, someday so it is important that we provide them with everything we can. Plus, young and old, we want everyone to get to know each other, make friends, and make the world a better place, together.”
De Luz goes on to say that many of the Trans Wellness Conference’s programs and meet-ups are geared toward those coming out as non-binary. “We want to make more space and offer more choices for those who identify as gender-queer, gender-fluid and any and all identities.”
Coleman said there are not just two genders, and that Mazzoni wanted to make space for, and validate all, at the conference, as well as the meet-ups.
“We want to make sure that we provide different opportunities and different open spaces for different kinds of folk – whether they’re coming from down South or South Philly - to talk together or scream out loud by themselves at that wind,” she said. “For some people, the Trans Wellness Conference is the only opportunity to be around other people with similar issues. We want to provide a safe space as well as an educational space – where they don’t have to explain themselves.”
This year's Trans Wellness Conference runs from Thursday, Aug. 2 to Saturday, Aug. 4 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. For a listing of events, information, and PTWC registration opportunities, visit mazzonicenter.org.