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|Southern Comfort Conference celebrates 20 years|
|by Jim Farmer|
|September 03, 2010 00:00|
When Atlanta’s Southern Comfort Conference begins next week, it does so with its core mission in place, but with a renewed emphasis on entertainment – and with some star wattage in the form of Chaz Bono.
According to Alexis Dee, the chair of the conference as well as a board member, this is the 20th anniversary of the conference, designed for the transgender community. Dee feels the conference has changed over the years from being information-only. That is one reason this year’s theme is “Party Hearty."
When the conference was launched in 1991, it was done more to provide information to bring the transgender community up to speed, according to Dee. That’s still of vital importance, and the 2010 convention will have the same kinds of information as in previous years.
“We have 96 seminars in all, with some of the top doctors and therapists in the country,” Dee said.
One key difference, though, is that there will be no keynote speaker, and there is a decided focus on entertainment and having fun.
Dee calls the conference the biggest of its kind in the country. This year, 900 attendees are expected. Dee says Southern Comfort welcomes everyone, from first timers to veteran participants.
“I’ve been involved six years now and the conference has evolved into more of an inclusive conference,” she says.
According to Dee, the addition of Chaz Bono — formerly Chastity Bono — has given the conference some added buzz. After coming out as a lesbian to “The Advocate” in 1995, Bono became an LGBT advocate, speaker and author, writing two books. Bono even worked for GLAAD for a while, and made headlines again when he came out as transgender.
While Dee was looking for guests for the conference, she was told by a colleague that Bono was interested in attending. Dee admits she took that at face value, not really thinking that it would happen. Yet she got Bono’s phone number and gave him a call. Bono said he’d be interested in attending along with his friend Nick Adams, who also works at GLAAD.
“Chaz does have a seminar that he usually does, but mostly he wants to hang with the guys,” Dee said. “We will be giving him a reception, but we didn’t have to convince him to come down. He wanted to be treated like everyone else.”
Dee joked that a lot of the attendees will hope that Bono brings his iconic mother Cher.
Other attendees include author Jennifer Finney Boylan. According to Dee, she is a frequent and popular guest at Southern Comfort.
“She always gives a seminar and people love to hear her talk,” Dee said. Boylan’s last book was the memoir “I’m Looking Through You.”
Also of note this year again will be the Trans Health Project. In 1999, Atlanta’s Robert Eads, a female to male transsexual, died after he was denied treatment by a number of Atlanta area doctors. Eads had developed ovarian cancer.
TransHealth Coordinators was established a little later to help deal with discrimination and to make doctors more knowledgeable about trans issues. TransHealth Coordinators began providing free HIV screenings at Southern Comfort three years ago. As part of the 20th Anniversary Health Fair, health screenings will again be held at the conference via TransHealth Coordinators and offsite via the Robert Eads Health Project.
Southern Comfort is now in its fourth year at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia. The conference has changed locations several times over the years but Dee is happy with the current location, noting that Atlanta is overall a friendly town to the trans community. According to Dee, however, nearby Cobb County is not that friendly to the trans community.
She says that the biggest issue facing the trans community these days is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
“Sure, there are things such as bias and bathroom issues, but these are small compared to ENDA,” Dee said. “It doesn’t look like ENDA is going through this year. People don’t seem to want to include transgendered people in this; a lot of people are fighting to keep the T in LGBT.”
Top photo: Chaz Bono, the child of Cher and Sonny Bono who made national news when he came out as transgender, will be a participant and presenter at this year’s Southern Comfort. (via ChazBono.net)
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