Thursday, September 13, 2007
Southern Comfort 2007
I'm a little bummed that I had to miss Southern Comfort this year mainly because of my work schedule. It's one of my favorite transgender events to attend since it's held in the ATL.
This year's version started on September 10 and is running through the 16th. The bulk of the convention will be transpiring today, Friday and Saturday with the start of the seminar tracks and the upcoming formal dinner on Saturday.
Southern Comfort, now in its 17th year, is the largest transgender event in the US. It's where we get together to transact our community business, have fun, get reacquainted with old friends, meet new ones, and learn a little something while were there. From humble beginnings it quickly became a must attend event during the 90's. It's even been featured in a documentary by the same name.
I first started attending SCC in 1999 and returned in 2000 for an NTAC board meeting we'd scheduled during the event. I skipped a few years letting my finances recover from my move to Louisville before I attended another one in 2004. The 2004 event was the first one I attended at the midtown Atlanta hotel they moved to after SCC outgrew the neighboring Buckhead area hotels that hosted it.
The 2000 Southern Comfort was the most memorable one for me. It was the year that SCC not only set their attendance record, but we had a record 26 African-American and Latino transpeeps attend SCC as well.
That attendance sadly has been the high water mark in terms of an African-American presence at SCC. One of the things that has been embarrassingly obvious to the SCC planners is that while they realize that they are sitting in the Black GLBT mecca, (a fact I and Dawn Wilson pointed out when we were participating in numerous SCC planning meetings over the years) the event has been shunned by the local community.
One of the major problems that contributed to the attendance gap at SCC is one that's common for many national transgender conferences. They are geared towards a middle to upper middle class clientele, in locations with little to no access to public transportation and hotels that aren't cheap or in suburban locations.
Even though SCC offers scholarships and 'sweat equity' programs to help defray costs, it's still in a hotel that's not cheap and the conference registration is separate from the hotel charges. The financial barrier helps to promote in the African-American community a perception that 'we're not wanted', and the end result is a convention that's 99% white.
Despite that feeling from time to time of being the Lone Sistah, I sometimes took advantage of being in the ATL and just got away from the hotel to see Atlanta's sights and attractions. I strolled through Piedmont Park after the 2004 SCC barbecue. Me and several other African-American attendees bounced to a nearby restaurant and had fun getting to know each other,
Since SCC is a Who's Who of people in the transgender universe, I've had the pleasure of meeting a lot of those well-known peeps as I was becoming one of them myself. In 2004 I had a wonderful conversation with Calpernia Addams. I had the pleasure of dancing with Jamison Green at the 2000 formal dinner and finally meeting TAVA founder Monica Helms. I got to meet and hang out with Dawn at the 1999 event. It's also fun to interact with the hotel staffs and guests as we're chillin' in the lobby or at the bars.
SCC is important on many levels. It's a event that transpeople plan and execute with military precision. It sends the message to the rest of the world that we aren't as invisible as some of you wish we would be, we aren't going away, and we aren't the ogres that your pastors tell you we are. It's a time and place where many transpeople first come out because it's an event where they feel safe, begin to build those support networks and gather the information that is crucial to a successful transition. It's one of the reasons why I came up with the idea of doing a similar conference for African-American transgender people that we made happen in 2005 and 2006. As a matter of fact, the job fair that SCC is promoting this year came from us coming up with the idea for our 2005 TSTBC conference.
And most importantly, SCC helps to instill pride in who we are as transgender people.