Greater Fort Lauderdale is demonstrating how progressive and open-minded the area is by hosting a transgender conference next week.

The Southern Comfort Conference is celebrating its silver anniversary beginning Sept. 29. The conference, an annual gathering of transgender people and their supporters, is being held in Broward County for the first time ever.

Richard Gray, LGBT market manager for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, gave an interview to the New York Times, explaining the bureau’s decision to target the transgender market.

“It’s really the forgotten T,” Gray told the Times. “ I realized I knew nothing about transgender travelers, and, as a gay man, I knew nothing about the transgender community. I researched and saw they had this conference that had been in Atlanta for 24 years, and I contacted their president, Lexi Dee. No one had ever courted them or paid them any attention before.”

Dee, a New Jersey native, is delighted to be attending this year’s conference. She spoke to SFGN via telephone this week about her transition from male to female.

“The last five or six years there’s been a whole lot of info come out about [being] transgender,” Dee said. “This spotlight has helped, but the general public still does not understand a lot of our issues.”

In South Florida, transgender people have options for help. One of those options is SunServe, a nonprofit social services agency. Atticus Ranck directs the agency’s transgender department.

“Raising awareness,” Ranck said is one of the conference’s key components.

“It’s a chance for transgender people to see each other, connect and join support groups,” Ranck said. “Some of the attendees are coming from isolated areas where they feel they cannot express their true identity.”

SunServe is joining the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau as participants at the conference. Gray tells the New York Times, Southern Comfort organizers “liked our commitment of raising the bar for trans inclusion.”

In the Times interview, Gray reveals how he was able to land the silver anniversary of Southern Comfort.

“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.”

Results of the survey, Gray added, were surprising.

“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.”

Easing financial burdens is where SunServe comes in. The agency, Ranck said, has the tools to connect transgender people to an array of services.

“We advocate doctors, help with access to hormones, and work with immigration attorneys,” Ranck said, listing some of the ways SunServe helps its clients.

For attendees like Dee, a 62-year-old married trans woman, the conference is essential.

“It changed my life,” she said.

The Southern Comfort Conference (SCC) will be held at Bonaventure Resort and Spa, 250 Racquet Club Rd, Weston, from Sept. 29 to Oct. 3. For more information, visit SouthernComfortConference.org


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