panelists seated behind table
panelists seated behind table

poster advertising Trans Health Activism panel

As part of the 2018 MLK symposium, IRWG presented a panel discussion about Detroit-based trans health activism, on January 26 in the Michigan League. The purpose was to explore the important work of transgender and gender nonconforming communities and their allies to build safety, opportunity, and access to health and wellness services for all.

Panelists included leaders from the Ruth Ellis Center, a social services agency in Detroit that serves LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness and residential instability. The Ruth Ellis Center, in partnership with the Henry Ford Health System, provides community-based health care services in a newly constructed, on-site Health & Wellness Center. The center provides general primary care and services tailored to the needs of LGBTQ young people, including HIV/AIDS prevention, sexual health services, and transition medications and hormone therapy for transgender individuals. In her introduction, IRWG Director and Women’s Studies Professor Anna Kirkland noted, “This is the site of some of the most dynamic teamwork to promote trans health equality that I have seen as I’ve researched this topic all around the country in my current project. I wanted our whole community to be able to learn from what is happening there.”

Representing activists, professionals, and community members from the Ruth Ellis Center and the Henry Ford health system, the panelists included: Lance Hicks, Brandi Smith, Amara Marley, Satrise Tillman, Dr. Maureen Connolly, and Tyffanie Walton. Speaking from personal and professional experiences, panelists discussed the work being done at the Ruth Ellis Center, from HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs, to support groups, counseling, and primary health care services. They also highlighted major challenges facing members of the trans community, including lack of access to transportation, the need for gender-affirming IDs, housing insecurity, unemployment in the trans community, and threats to overall physical safety -- in public spaces and even shelters. They emphasized the continued need for resources and community education.

Acting as the panel’s facilitator, Dr. Maureen Connolly, a pediatrician and medical director of the Ruth Ellis Health & Wellness Center, explained that trans people often experience discrimination and bias when seeking healthcare -- from their first interaction checking in with office staff, to interactions with doctors and nurses. Other speakers explained that some services, such as HIV interventions, are often only targeted towards gay men and are not welcoming to trans women and gender nonconforming patients. They asked audience members to be more inclusive when thinking about healthcare services and interventions, and to remember that transgender women of color are all distinct individuals with unique stories even as they face many of the same challenges.

Cosponsors of this event included the Department of Women’s Studies, the Child and Adolescent Gender Clinic at Mott Children’s Hospital, the Spectrum Center, the Center for the Education of Women, and the College of Pharmacy.

For more information about the Ruth Ellis Center, visit their website:

Anna Kirkland introduces the panelists to a large crowd of people seated in the audience

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