growing up in the 1990’s afforded me the opportunity to personally meet and work with lgbtqia pioneers who shoulders we stand on. charlene arcilla is one of them.

miss charlene, as i called her, moved to philadelphia in 1991 from jackson, mississippi. much of the queer organizing taking place during this time centered around community-based response to the aids epidemic. miss charlene soon became one of philadelphia’s prolific activists in philadelphia by challenging and demanding that trans people in recovery were heard and intentionally included.

miss charlene also advocated for trans and queer folks in faith communities and helped to break barriers and build bridges that continue to stand strong all these years later.

charlene racial with members of the 2002 trans health conference committee

in 2000, miss charlene founded the philadelphia trans health conference (now called the philadelphia trans wellness conference.) then a one-day conference, TPHC brought together community members and health providers. the conference is now one of the largest trans conferences in the world.

in 2007, miss charlene filed a complaint with the city after a public transit employee challenged gender marker on her pass. yeah, back then, philadelphia had gender markers on public transit passes. after six years of organizing and advocating, the gender markers were dropped.

miss charlene, ordained minister, activist and pioneer, passed away in 2015. she was 52 years old. the impact of her work continued to reverberate through the city of philadelphia. today, and every day, we honor, praise and celebrate her legacy.

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