April 24, 2018 at 6:29 pm PST | by Austin Mendoza
Historic Trans Wellness Center opens in Los Angeles

Trans Wellness Center opening April 24, 2018 in Los Angeles. (From L-R) Cameron Varney, TWC Staff Member; Thea Eskey (member of TWC’s Community Advisory Board); Frankie Darling-Palacios (works with TWC’s Community Advisory Board); Mariana Marroquin (Program Manager of TWC); Kery Ramirez (member of TWC’s Community Advisory Board); and Dominique Guillermo, TWC Staff Member. (Photo courtesy Los Angeles LGBT Center)

The Los Angeles Trans Wellness Center (TWC) marked its grand opening Tuesday morning with a press conference and rapturous applause, The TWC is the first trans center hosting trans programs of six organizations, providing comprehensive resources and services for transgender and non-binary people under a single roof.

“For the first time in the history of the transgender movement, trans and non-binary individuals finally have a safe, friendly, and non-judgmental area where they can find a wide range of vital services under one roof created by – and for – the community,” said TWC Program Manager Mariana Marroquin. “I am honored to be part of this new and exciting effort to empower the transgender and non-binary communities.”

TWC Program Manager Mariana Marroquin (photo by Austin Mendoza)

The opening of the Trans Wellness Center is the culmination of a ten-year-long process of advocacy and development. Funded through a $1 million annual grant for three to five years from the Los Angeles Country Department of Public Health, TWC was formed by six local community organizations: APAIT apaitonline.org (Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team; Facebook: APAITSSG); Bienestar, bienestar.org (on Facebook: bienestar.familia); Children’s Hospital Los Angeles chla.org (Facebook: ChildrensLA); Friends Community Center friendscommunitycenter.org (Facebook.com/FriendsResearch); TransLatin@ Coalition, translatinacoalition.org (Facebook.com/translatinacoalition); and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, lalgbtcenter.org (Facebook.com/lalgbtcenter), which is leading management and operations support for the TWC.

“We value all clients having access to all the services needed as well as creating spaces that are welcoming and culturally appropriate for all transgender people,” Bienestar Director of Programs and Services Brendan O’Connell said in a press release. “With more than 21 years of experience providing health and wellness programs to the Latina transgender community, we are committed to providing comprehensive services to Los Angeles’ transgender community from the Trans Wellness Center’s one-stop, centralized location.”

“This Center’s opening is a culmination of thousands of days of visioning, deliberating, debating, planning, and negotiating. The process has not always been easy, but in the end, your shared commitment to the health and wellbeing of our transgender sisters and brothers, your dedication to health equity and your fight for positive social change has outlasted any threats to a remarkable partnership,” Mario Perez, Director of the Division of HIV and STD Programs at LA County’s Public Health Department, said at the news conference.

The Center will provide hormone therapy and transition resources, HIV testing and care, mental and sexual health services and education, occupational training, housing and legal services, among other services.

These services are vital to the transgender community. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, unemployment rates among transgender individuals are three times higher than the national average, 30% of the transgender population have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, and 45% of transgender people have not been tested for HIV despite having a fivefold chance of having the virus. The scariest statistic: 68% of national LGBTQ homicide victims in 2016 were transgender women, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.

“We finally have a space that is dedicated to the overall well-being of transgender people,” APAIT Health Educator Jaden Fields said in a statement. “As a community partner, APAIT will be providing services and programming to address the economic empowerment of transgender people.”

“The Trans Wellness Center is the first-of-its-kind in Los Angeles and in the nation, providing a safe place and resources for transgender and non-binary individuals,” said Friends Community Center HIV Outreach Educator April Saravia.

The TWC’s Community Advisory Board, an eight-person panel comprised of transgender and non-binary people, pledged to ensure that these specific community needs are met.

“We walk our walk every day, we’re out in the community and we’re able to really identify from that what the community needs,” Board member Thea Eskey explained, “and what specifically the voices are saying back to us.”

TWC is also “looking forward to creating more opportunities for people where they feel empowered to sit at a table and not just beg for crumbs under it,” Eskey said.

Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean expressed enthusiasm for the Board.

Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean, TWC Program Manager Mariana Marroquin, Mario Perez, Director of the Division of HIV and STD Programs at LA County’s Public Health Department (Photo by Austin Mendoza)

“One of the exciting things about this Center is – we don’t quite know what it’s going to be because the Community Advisory Board is going to be key to figuring out which programs and services should be here,” Jean said. “I imagine it’s going to evolve, and we’re going to learn things once it gets going that we maybe didn’t know before.”

Establishing the Trans Wellness Center, the speakers concurred, is not the end of the fight for trans lives and equality.

“Our shared progress will require a disproportionately high level of attention and commitment to our residents whose social, economic, and structural environment makes improved health outcomes including HIV- and STD-related outcomes, more challenging but not impossible, particularly among transgender women,” Perez said. “We expect that this center will offer that attention and commitment.”

“Our society is rife with ignorance and bigotry,” Jean said. “Lots of folks don’t understand [gender] and you grow up not having any role models. One of the things that [the Center] will be able to do here is to provide more visible role models.”

Opening of Trans Wellness Center April 24, 2018 (Photo by Austin Mendoza)

“We have been telling our stories, educating ourselves, marching along with other fighters for our rights, and it was about time to have our own Center,” said TWC Program Manager, Mariana Marroquin. “The health and well-being of trans and non-binary people goes beyond learning how to use a condom and getting tested. How are you going to get tested if you’re hungry? How are you not going to engage in survivor’s sex work if you cannot get a job where you are respected for who you are? How are you going to take medication if you feel that your life doesn’t matter? How are you going to leave that abusive relationship if you’re going to end up homeless? This is the Transgender Wellness Center—and we see you. We understand where you’re coming from, because this place was created by the community and for the community.”

The Los Angeles Trans Wellness Center is located at 3055 Wilshire Blvd. near the Koreatown and Wilshire Center neighborhoods. It is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and can be contacted at (323) 993-2900 or at transwellness@lalgbtcenter.org. For more information about the TWC, visit mytranswellness.org.

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