The name and location have changed, but the tradition remains the same.
The 27th annual Southern Comfort Transgender Conference (formerly Southern Comfort Conference) is coming back to Fort Lauderdale, this time at the Riverside Hotel on Las Olas Blvd., for three days of talks, workshops, group socials, dinners out, and a pool party. Registration packages begin at $75 with group dinners ranging from $45 - $65.
From 1991 through 2014, Southern Comfort, one the country’s largest conferences for the trans community, was held in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2011, the SCC collaborated with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) to announce their standards of care for trans and gender nonconforming people.
The collaboration resulted in a peak of 1,000 conference guests, but after attendance dwindled board members started wondering if maybe they had exhausted the local market, Alexis Dee, SCTC Board President told SFGN. Dee has been Board President for five years, and involved with Southern Comfort for 10 years.
Although Atlanta had always been a welcoming home, it was thanks to the efforts of Richard Gray, managing director of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitor’s Bureau’s LGBT campaign, who reached out to Dee, that the SCC board made the decision to relocate to Fort Lauderdale in 2015.
Lexi Dee (left) and Richard Gray. Photo credit Steven Shires.
“They liked our commitment of raising the bar for trans inclusion. Around the same time, I organized a round-table discussion with some national leaders and also met with the research firm Community Marketing & Insights to put a transgender travel study together, because there had never been one,” Gray told the New York Times when the SCC made the switch.
The study’s findings helped Gray and the visitor’s bureau put together their strategies for marketing to transgender travelers regarding security, and inclusion.
“We found that 62 percent of transgender people travel alone, many because they’re ‘stealth’ — often they have a partner who has no idea they’re transgender. The Southern Comfort Conference is mostly male to female and that’s what we’ve looked at. Female to male blend easier; male to female often don’t. By far their biggest concerns were physical and verbal violence and a lack of gender-neutral restrooms. Unlike the gay market, trans travelers are more in line with budget travelers, without a lot of disposable income,” Gray said.
While last year’s conference was held at the Bonaventure Resort in Weston, this year’s conference has been downsized, with an expected 300 – 350 guests coming to the Riverside Las Olas.
“As much as we loved working with everyone in Weston the location was so big we could barely find each other, this year will be much more intimate. And being right off Las Olas, ‘the Rodeo of Fort Lauderdale’ we hope there will be more for everyone to do outside of the seminars too,” Dee said.
Dee said she and Gray had recently visited the Riverside Hotel during sensitivity training with hotel staff, and that she was looking forward to working with them and welcoming guests at this year’s conference.
SCTC starts Thursday Sept. 14 with the Transgender Medical Conference, and continues Friday and Saturday with seminars and social events.
Amanda Simpson, one of the guest speakers. Photo courtesy of SCTC..
“The focus of the conference has always been to educate attendees, provide them with information and connect them to qualified medical service providers,” Dee said.
Below are some highlights from the conference.
Dr. Dana Bevan, biopsychologist will discuss some of the answers to the question “Why are you and I transgender?” The talk will cite casual observations, misinformation, and review scientific evidence in potential factors such as genetics, epigenetics, early learning, culture, and more. Dr. Bevan has written three books on being transgender and has given talks on transgender science at WPATH, USPATH, and the National Trans Health Conference among others.
Dr. David Rosow, Dr. Adam Loyd and Dr. Jennylee Diaz from the University of Miami School of Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology will discuss medical surgical treatments and voice training for matching gender identity, including speech therapy for modulating pitch, intonation patterns, and resonance.
Dr. Sherman Leis, Professor, and Chairman of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine will discuss options for female to male surgeries including facial feminization, breast augmentation, and bottom surgery.
While the Southern Comfort conference has added a variety of social events and group outings to their lineup over the years, like Thursday’s Princess Day outing, and dinner at Lips, and educational or transformational workshops including voice training sessions and hair and make-up tutorials, Dee said this year the SCTC has worked on including seminars focusing on empowerment as well.
Those workshops include:
Science educator and SCC alumna Michelle Cooper will talk to guests about “Coping with Inability to Transition” for those who cannot or do not physically transition for financial, familial, or health reasons. Michelle identifies as a male to female transsexual, not in transition. In addition to SCTC Michelle is a member of Tri-Ess, Tava, Pink Essence, and the former Southern Belle Society.
Markie Anna Parker will share her experience with “Later-in-Life Transitions.” Markie transitioned at the age of 63 with support from her wife of 30 years. Markie served as the Chief of the Investigations Section for California’s Department of Public Health, is a Vietnam veteran and mental health counselor among her many roles.
Ashley Brundage, Inclusion Consultant for PNC Bank and Tampa resident will speak on employment, sharing about her own transition, discussing workplace quality, diversity and inclusion. And attorney and activist Debra Soshoux from Korenberg Abramowitz & Feldun, Los Angeles will talk about “Sex, Gender and the Law.”
In addition to the seminars and workshops, the SCTC has announced special guest speakers for the weekend include former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy, Amanda Simpson, National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign, Sarah McBride, and movie producer and motivational speaker of adult film industry fame, Buck Angel. International guests include Lasia Casil founder of LGBT organization ISA Guam and Colombian human rights activist Matilda Gonzalez.
Despite the downsizing, Dee said the relationship between SCTC and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau has been a great one so far, and doesn’t anticipate relocating from the area anytime soon.
If You Go:
Southern Comfort Transgender Conference
Thurs. Sept. 14 – Sat. Sept. 16
620 E. Las Olas Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301
For information on Fort Lauderdale’s transgender resources including groups, services clinics, gender neutral restrooms and more visit www.sunny.org/lgbt/transgender/