Charlene Arcila was a spiritual leader and activist within the Philadelphia trans community, a place she called home after moving to the city from Mississippi in 1991. Her accomplishments were many. In 2000, Arcila founded the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, which began as a one day conference that provided professionals access to becoming competent health care providers for transgender patients. Arcila remained involved with the conference for many years after it became a program of the Mazzoni Center in 2006; the PTHC is now recognized as the largest trans conference in the United States.
In 2007, Arcila sparked a larger movement to address trans discrimination by SEPTA– Philadelphia’s transit provider–when she filed a complaint after being challenged by a SEPTA employee about the gender marker on her transpass. This action inspired others to take up the cause, leading to the formation of RAGE (Riders Against Gender Exclusion); in 2013 gender markers were officially removed from SEPTA transpasses.
An ordained minister, Arcila became a deaconess at the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church in 2009, a faith house known for its espousal of liberation theology and non-oppressive inclusivity. In addition to ministering, Arcila worked to educate liturgical staffs on making their churches and congregations more welcoming and affirming to trans-identified individuals.
In 2015, Arcila passed away at the age of 52, her extensive honors evidence of how beloved and integral she was to her community and the greater city of Philadelphia. In 2014, Arcila was named a Trans 100 honoree and invited to be the plenary speaker at the Pennsylvania Youth Action Conference–the nation’s first youth-led statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization. Before her death, she was named a grand marshal of the 2015 Philadelphia Pride parade; unable to march, one of the two grand-marshal floats was renamed in Arcila’s honor. That same year the Mazzoni Center created the Charlene Arcila Award to commend trans/GNC/GV individuals who have followed in her footsteps to grow and support the PTHC.