Scientists. Activists. Lawyers. Artists. The first computer programmers.
The history books may have neglected some of the incredible Philly women who changed the world over the last 200-plus years—but we have not.
While it shouldn’t take a national observance to put women on our radar, this is one holiday we’re happy to play along with: Every weekday during Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting a local woman whose legacy deserves celebrating—and who continues to inspire us.
Charlene Arcila came out as a transgender woman as soon as she moved to Philadelphia from Mississippi in 1990.
She worked for the Philadelphia AIDS Consortium for 20 years, during which time she also founded the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference—now the largest conference for transgender and gender-nonconforming people to provide health care and wellness support. It grew every year since its inception with 7,000 people attending in 2017.
Arcila also led the grassroots movement to ban gender markers from SEPTA passses in 2013, arguing them discriminatory against transgender and gender-nonconforming people. She served as treasurer for the William Way LGBT Community Center and as a member of the board of directors for the Mazzoni Center, a health care provider in Philly that serves the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
Arcila passed away six years ago, leaving a prominent and lasting legacy on the trans and queer community of Philadelphia.
- Provine High School, 1981
- Founded the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, now known as the Trans-Wellness conference
- Led the movement to ban gender markers on SEPTA passes
- Named a 2014 Trans 100 honoree
- The Mazzoni Center honors Arcila’s work by giving out the Charlene Arcila Pioneer Award at the Trans-Wellness conference each year.
FINAL WORDS: “The important thing is to feel connected to people or communities beyond yourself. That plays a major role in reducing isolation and helping us get out of our own heads, gives us a framework for coping and provides support when things get tough,” Arcila said of the philosophy that drove her activism.