by Marisa Richmond, Ph.D.
Now, I am back from the biggest annual gathering of Trans people every year: Southern Comfort Conference. This year was my 12th SCC.
I arrived on Wednesday afternoon as the crowd at the bar began to increase. I did not have any special plans that night, so I had a leisurely dinner with Laura Beth Wages (current board chair of the Tennessee Vals) and Stephanie Sands (former board chair of the Vals) at a nearby restaurant. The kitchen was moving a little slow that night, but since we were in no particular rush, we did not complain, so the restaurant gave us each a free dessert. Laura’s coconut cake was so large, it looked like it could have sunk the Titanic.
The first official event I attended was the 3rd Annual Picnic in Piedmont Park . This event has proven to be extremely popular over the years. Amazingly, this year’s picnic was so big, they actually ran out of plates. From there, I went straight to my first seminar, "History & Traditions of Transgender," which I co-presented with Dr. Ken Dollarhide of Richard Stockton University . I have been a seminar presenter since 1995 and have offered as many as three different topics in a single year. Right after that, the Tennessee Vals hosted an open house reception, the sixth time in ten years the Vals have done that. This year’s reception–which was held in the (Marisa) Richmond Suite–was a bit more low-key than previous ones, but the informality made it very relaxing. Later that evening, 25 of us congregated in the Southern Comfort reception suite to watch the first Presidential debate. We all came away excited and optimistic. Ironically, that same day, the U.S. House Representatives defeated the Federal Marriage Amendment, but sadly, all of Tennessee ‘s House members voted "yes." This is an issue that greatly concerns the Transgender community since there are many Trans persons who are in legal, same-sex marriages and do not want their spousal relationships and benefits denied by law.
Furthermore, since many Southern states have previously created legal definitions for "race," they might attempt to write legal definitions for "sex" or "gender" that do not fit reality.
Friday proved to be my busiest day. I started by attending the seminar called "Moving Closer to Transgender Equality" presented by Mara Keisling (National Center for Transgender Equality or NCTE) and Lisa Mottet (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force). This was a look at the state of Transgender issues and legislation at the Federal level. Our luncheon speaker was Vickie Lee of London . She is the head of WayOut Publishing, which produces the Tranny Guide. After lunch, I attended two more seminars: "Sharing a Black ‘T’ Perspective" by Fredrikka Maxwell, Vice Chair of the Tennessee Vals, and "Issues Facing Transgender Veterans" presented by Angela Brightfeather and Monica Helms of the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA). This May, TAVA organized its first March to the Vietnam Wall, which also included a visit to the Iwo Jima Memorial and a very moving wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. During Southern Comfort, TAVA announced the date of the Second March to the Wall: May 20-21. These dates are intended to compliment the Congressional Lobby
Days (May 18-20) sponsored by the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition.
But that is not to say Friday was all business, I also attended two afternoon receptions sponsored by Fantasia Fair (the oldest Transgender conference) and the NCTE. The Friday dinner featured the annual Talent Show, which included Fredrikka who sang live.
Saturday started with my second seminar, "The Transgender Community and the Election of 2004." My co-presenters were Dr. Meredith Bacon ( University of Nebraska at Omaha ) and Mara Keisling. It was an excellent discussion about Transgender politics. We placed a special emphasis on participation in the process at all levels along with being informed about the key issues affecting Trans persons and the stands of the various candidates on those issues. One of the seminar attendees was the only openly Trans person elected to public office in the southeast, Michelle Bruce, City Council member from Riverdale , Georgia . Our luncheon speaker that day was Nashville native Calpernia Addams. Although she once spoke at a Tennessee Vals meeting in 2000, it was her first ever speech to a Trans conference. She received a standing ovation when she was introduced, and another when she finished. In addition, Calpernia hosted two showings of "Soldier’s Girl" with Q&A sessions. After Calpernia’s keynote address, I attended an event called a Transsistahs Reception. It was organized by Monica Roberts, moderator of the chat room TG-POC. While the discussion was interesting, I do feel such events are more important if they are open to all and not closed as this one was.
Saturday ended with the final banquet, which featured Vickie D’Salle of Cincinnati and her band, which entertained with a lively set of New Orleans style boogie. Yeah baby! Surprisingly, I closed the bar after dinner…
The next Southern Comfort is September 20-25, 2005, although transgender gatherings occur all around the country throughout the year. These events are not just open to those who are transgendered, but to those who are supportive or just wish to learn.