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|Southern Comfort Conference 'Comes of Age'|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|September 16, 2011 00:00|
Each year, the Southern Comfort Conference brings transgenders, transsexuals and cross dressers together in a safe space to not only learn from each other but also to learn from experts on such topics as surgeries, transgender fiction writing and career searches.
For the 21st year of the conference, set for Sept. 22-25 with the theme “Coming of Age,” SCC is also partnering with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association for an all-day joint symposium at the Emory University Conference Center on Sept. 25.
“It should really be an historic event,” said SCC chairperson Alexis Dee. “For the first time, our community will have the opportunity to directly address the professionals that set the guideline for transgendered care and treatment.”
WPATH is also expected to release “sweeping changes” to standards of care for transgender people, Dee added.
“WPATH [formerly the Harry Benjamin Gender Dysphoria Association] ... is the entity that makes rules and standards of care for the whole transgender community. The last time they met was two years ago in Oslo. This year WPATH has proposed some sweeping changes to standards of care and initial presentation of new standards of care will be at our conference on Sept. 24,” Dee said. “We are very interested to hear what they have to say.”
More than 800 people are expected to attend this year’s Southern Comfort, which has a blackjack theme to represent its 21st year, and there are 96 seminars available to participants. A market place will be open all weekend offering everything from beauty tips and items to massages to information on electrolysis and surgeries. Online registration is closed but people can register at the host hotel, the Crown Plaza Atlanta Perimeter at Ravinia, on each day of the conference from 8:30 a.m. to noon.
Although the country is in the midst of a down economy, the host hotel is nearly full for Southern Comfort, Dee said.
“We were sweating it pretty early on with the economy and unemployment, but the hotel is almost sold out,” she said.
A total of 100 full and partial scholarships have also been awarded to trans people from across the country who would not be able to attend without financial help, Dee said.
“There are so many resources and information all in one place to help people,” she said.
‘An empowering experience’
This year, Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth (TILTT) will host a Cajun gumbo dinner from 2-6 p.m. in Suite 1221 on Thursday, Sept. 22, to offer a place for trans people of color to gather before opening the event to everyone.
“This year the format is that we will have space for four hours. I’ve requested trans people of color have the first hour and a half to network and brainstorm on issues specific to our community,” said Cheryl Courtney-Evans, founder of TILTT.
“This is first time many trans people of color will be with other trans people of color from other parts of the country and they will have chance to interact. We are a microcosm of the entire African-American community and we have to address issues like homelessness. In Atlanta alone I have a number of women approaching me looking for homes. We need to talk about it,” she said.
Southern Comfort is a place for transgender people to come together to learn from one another, Courtney-Evans said.
“I think it’s a great experience. It’s an empowering experience especially for those just beginning to transition to start seeing they are not alone and are part of a much larger group,” she said.
Also notable is the Robert Eads Project held each year as part of SCC to offer health screenings to trans men. Eads, a rural Georgia trans man, was the subject of the critically acclaimed 2001 documentary “Southern Comfort” about his life and battle with cervical cancer. He died after several doctors refused to treat him due to his gender identity.
The Robert Eads Health Partnership Fair will be held all day at the Feminist Health Center on Sept. 22.
‘Nobody has to be alone’
Vickie Davis lives near Nashville, Tenn., and will attend her seventh SCC this year. It’s about a four-hour drive, she said, and well worth the time in the car for a weekend of fun with new and old friends as well as attending seminars.
But mostly it’s about knowing you are not alone in the world.
“You can meet people and gain a tremendous amount of knowledge all in one place,” Davis said. “I hope my friend from England comes. There’s also a regular who comes from Norway, and another from London. So people come from all over.
At her first SCC, she admits it was scary to come out of her hotel room. This is common for most first-timers and there are assigned mentors for those seeking help and encouragement to make their first appearance at a major public event.
“Though it was scary at first, that quickly went away when I realized there were so many of us there,” Davis said.
“I hope people realize you’re not alone. At this conference, nobody is alone, nobody has to be alone. Other folks have been there and know where they are at,” she said.
Top photo: More than 800 people are expected to attend this year’s Southern Comfort Conference, the largest transgender conference in the nation. (via Facebook)
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