At the Mazzoni Center, the health and wellness of the LGBTQ+ community is always at the forefront of what the organization does. And as one of the world’s oldest LGBTQ+ health care organizations and the oldest HIV care organization in the state, those who work there certainly know what they’re talking about.
“The Mazzoni Center seemed like the ideal place for me to work, a place where my identity as a trans woman would be a genuine asset,” explains Billie Swiggard, staff physician and Medical CERC member at the Mazzoni. “Now that I am working as a staff physician at Mazzoni, I can honestly say that I am excited, entertained and challenged every single day, serving my community surrounded by like-minded colleagues I respect and love.”
Swiggard knew she was trans from the time she was a toddler, but for several reasons, she felt as though she could not come out and begin her social and medical transition until 3 years ago, at age 67. After transitioning while working at Cooley Dickinson Hospital (an MGH affiliate) in Northampton MA, by 2021, it was time for a new start.
“So I returned to Philly, which feels like home,” Swiggard continues. “That’s because I did my internship, Internal Medicine residency and Infectious Disease fellowship at Penn, where I also did a post-doctoral fellowship in collaboration with my ex-wife and forever friend, Dr. Una O’Doherty, who has her own lab at Penn.”
Swiggard, who has admired the work of the Mazzoni for years, continued to pursue her medical career with the organization—but her first love was actually born on the stage.
“Medicine is a second career for me. My first career was in show business, [and] I performed in several musicals on and off-Broadway, and in numerous national theater tours,” Swiggard says. “In the early 1980s, many of my beautiful, young, talented friends were dying grisly deaths of something we did not understand, namely AIDS. I decided that I would go back to school and learn how to fight AIDS. So a career practicing Infectious Disease medicine and doing HIV research was kind of inevitable.”
Swiggard went back to school at that time to study Chemistry at George Mason University while working part-time at NIH. She also went on to complete her MD at Weill Cornell Medical College and her PhD in Immunology from Rockefeller University, where her mentor was 2011 Nobel laureate Ralph Steinman. And before returning to Philadelphia in July 2021, the Mazzoni’s physician worked in Western Massachusetts at MGH-affiliated Cooley Dickinson Hospital and at the Ryan White funded FQHC Holyoke Health Center as a full-time Infectious Diseases specialist.
Currently, Swiggard’s HIV research interests include latent HIV infection that escapes eradication by ART, and the process of immune recovery in patients who are taking ART. And at the Trans Wellness Conference beginning July 20, Swiggard specifically will be addressing some subjects and issues regarding the disease.
“I will be talking about HIV’s outsized impact on the trans and gender diverse community. But there will be literally dozens of presentations, focused on health care, behavioral health, legal issues and sessions for the general trans and gender diverse community,” she explains.
Swiggard also mentions that the conference will span presentations on pelvic floor therapy, queering harm reduction, myths about trans youth healthcare and how to debunk them with caregivers, and many, many others.
“Recent events in politics are disturbing, including hard right efforts to restrict not only reproductive rights, but also gay and trans rights. One of the goals of this gathering is to network with others in the interest of combining our efforts to fight back against cruel and unfair legislation,” says Swiggard. “Our community of trans and gender diverse people comprise a myriad of identities, experiences and embodiments. We are our own best advocates. We hope to raise the standards of gender affirming care worldwide. We hope to join forces to push back against efforts to restrict our rights, and we need to get to know each other better—both personally and professionally. The Philly Trans Wellness Conference delivers year after year. It is an incomparable resource.”
To learn more about Swiggard’s work at The Mazzoni Center and the Trans Wellness Conference, visit mazzonicenter.org