The Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia hosts the 20th Trans Wellness Conference, the largest of its kind in the world

This story contains references to suicide. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call or text 988.

The Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, billed as the largest free event of its kind in the world, held its 20th annual meeting this week, meeting virtually at a time when many in the transgender community feel singled out.

Over the past year, legislatures across the country have introduces dozens of restrictions related to trans people. In Pennsylvania, lawmakers passed — and this month Governor Tom Wolf vetoed — a ban on trans athletes that experts have called discriminatory.

» READ MORE: Wolf vetoes bills on poll watchers and transgender athletes

These political efforts harm the mental health of trans youth.

More than half of transgender and non-binary youth have “seriously considered” attempting suicide in the past year, according to data presented at a Friday afternoon conference session by The Trevor Project, an organization national LGBTQ youth suicide prevention nonprofit that surveyed nearly 34,000 LGBTQ youth. 13-24.

The rates at which LGBTQ youth consider suicide and experience anxiety have increased since 2020, said project researcher Jonah DeChants.

The survey also found that 85% of trans youth felt that discussions about trans-related restrictions had a negative impact on their mental health, and that 93% of trans youth were concerned about not being able to access the care they needed. needed to meet their needs. transition due to new laws.

The conference itself has received negative attention from those who attempt to place the trans community at the heart of the so-called “culture wars”.

READ MORE: Conservative media got their hands on videos of a 2021 Philadelphia trans conference. Harassment followed.

In May, conservative media, including Fox News, showed Tucker Carlson tonight, sparked controversy by sharing video clips from last year’s conference. They circulated information from conference sessions of a sexual nature, claiming they were intended for an underage audience – a claim the organizers said was inaccurate. After the segments, the featured speakers were subject to harassment.

It is in this environment that conference organizers have tried to create space for a community to come together, learn information and feel safe. They were hoping to flip the script.

“There is a general discourse here about resilience and resistance to the attacks that our community is facing,” said Sinéad Murano, logistics coordinator for the conference. “How can we thrive, while we are fighting to survive? »

The event drew about 2,000 registered attendees and featured about 110 sessions over three days, according to organizers from the Mazzoni Center, the city’s largest LGBTQ health agency. Sessions covered topics ranging from resume writing to navigating health insurance and discussions of transitioning in old age to support trans teens. There were also sex workshops limited to participants over 18 years old.

Before the pandemic, the conference drew thousands of attendees to the Philadelphia Convention Center. For three years, the event has been virtual.

A recurring theme at this year’s conference was the ability to mitigate mental health damage.

In a Thursday session on the importance of peer counselling, AJ Schaerer, the founder of the California-based nonprofit Trans Advocacy and Care Team, said the idea that suffering is inherent being trans is a “myth” that needs to be dispelled.

“Being trans, non-binary or gender diverse is not the root cause of any of the challenges trans people face,” they said.

It’s a conclusion that DeChants highlighted from the Trevor Project investigation. “We also find that having positive sources of support in your life has a positive impact on your mental health,” he said.

» READ MORE: Voice therapy can help trans people look like themselves and feel safer

Conference organizers said they took extra security precautions this year. Still, many panelists chose not to use their full names or disclose their location.

But even without being able to meet in person and gather under some level of anonymity, attendees describe the event as a haven of peace. Session chats have become communities of support.

In an emotional session, parents of trans children shared their child’s journey. A father described how the school was unprepared to support his child and how emotional distress was interpreted by adults as acting out, leading to disciplinary action.

The comments in the chat filled with love.

“Being a trans guy in this session surrounded by parents who accept their kids is a feeling I can’t describe,” one participant wrote.

How to find help

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, help is available 24/7:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Hotline offers help in over 150 languages. Dial 1-800-273-8255 or text HELLO to 741741. In Spanish, mark at 1-888-628-9454. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call 1-800-799-4889.
  • Philadelphia Suicide and Crisis Center offers counseling and assessment on depression, self-harm, hopelessness, anger, substance abuse and relationship issues, at 215-686-4420.
  • Veterans crisis chat is available at 1-800-273-8255 or by text at 838255.
  • The Trevor Project offers crisis support to LGBTQ+ youth 25 and under. Call 1-866-488-7386, text START to 678678 or start a conversation.

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