OpEd: Southern Comfort Conference

The Southern Comfort Conference is a major transgender conference that has taken place annually since 1991. It features seminars, events, speeches by prominent people in the LGBT community, numerous vendors catering to transgender and transsexual people. Wikipedia references the event as the largest and pre-eminent such conference in the United States.

At the Riverside Hotel on Monday morning, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Visitors Bureau announced that this prestigious event is coming to a Fort Lauderdale next year. Moving from Atlanta after 24 years, the transition is attributable to the CVB's managing director, Richard Gray, who commissioned a study on the economic impact and value of transgender tourism.

From an editorial standpoint, the initiative lends further stature to South Florida as a progressive and inclusive community, legions apart from the perception most people have of Florida itself. After all, we are a state still fighting same-sex marriage, it's charge led by the state's attorney general, Pam Bondi. Even Fort Lauderdale's own mayor, Jack Seiler, opposes us.

Nevertheless, the SCC has cultivated a reputation as a safe place for the LGBT transgender community. It attracts people from all over the United States, offering the opportunity for social interactions, promoting health exams, and spiriting in new levels of understanding. The Community Marketing Initiative, offering insights into the LGBT community, claims that the CVB should be lauded for its pioneering efforts, which will yield economic benefits to all of South Florida.

More than just the dollars, we should be thinking about the dignity a conference likes this offers the transgender community. It opens doors and breaks down walls. Even within the gay community, there can still be a condescending attitude towards the T's in LGBT. And that is unacceptable, with a capital 'U.'

Earlier this year, Time magazine broke new ground by publishing a cover story on actress Laverne Cox and 'the Transgender Tipping Point.' Her role in the Netflix series 'Orange is the New Black' has been compelling. This past week, with the release of 'Lady Valor,' CNN lifted eyebrows with the stunning and spectacular story of Kristin Beck, once soldier Chris Beck, a Navy seal, a father, and family man. We are beginning to realize gender is not a matter of choice.

Young queer people are moving away from using only sexual orientation labels to describe themselves. Instead they use language like gender fluid or genderqueer to define themselves and also their sexual orientation. As the Community Marketing Initiative notes, 'Don’t box me in!' is the resounding mantra from younger generations. These are kids who have grown up with greater acceptance surrounding diverse forms of expression and sexualities. Now it's time for the grown ups to grow up.

We come together as a society not to restrict the rights of any but to secure the rights of all. We are all playing on the same team. Transparency and visibility is simply just a way of saying 'this is who I am.' Be who you are. The circle expands, the rubber band stretches, and we should all make room for each other. Let's congratulate the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Visitors Bureau for doing just that.


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