by Marisa Richmond, Ph.D.
This month, from April 26 to May 1, Transgender leaders and activists will congregate in Austin , Texas for the 19th Annual Conference on Sex, Gender and Politics presented by the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE).
This year’s co-hosts are the Transgender Advocates of Central Texas, the Central Texas Transgender Society and the Alpha Tau Chapter of Tri-Ess. The theme for 2005 is "Exploring the Connections." The 2002 convention was held in Nashville and was hosted by the Tennessee Vals.
The oldest annual event in the transgender community is Fantasia Fair. It was first held in October 1975 in Provincetown , Mass. The idea for the event came from the Boston area support group The Cherrystones. They chose Provincetown because of its reputation for tolerance of all, regardless of sex, orientation or identity. The first Fair had about 40 attendees. The event’s programs include seminars on makeup and feminine presentation, sex reassignment surgery and various personal issues, including professional, family and spiritual concerns. Over the years, management of the Fair has been handled by the Outreach Insitute for Gender Studies (OIGS) and its director, Ariadne Kane.
One of those inspired by Ariadne Kane was Merissa Sherrill Lynn, who saw Kane on a Boston television talk show. This led to her contacting, first, the Gender Identity Service in Boston and, subsequently, the Cherrystone Club. Through the Cherrystone Library, Lynn was exposed to a wide array of helpful reading materials. But, she still felt that there was a niche not being served. With the creation of a new group in the Boston area, Tiffany Club, Merissa started a new publication called Tapestry. Her purpose was to provide non-sexual community news and information. Then, while attending the 7th Fantasia Fair in Provincetown in 1981, Merissa participated in a meeting sponsored by Betty Ann Lind of Washington , DC in Chicago House on Winslow Street . That meeting was the first effort to bring together national leaders. A consequence of the discussion was an agreement to create a national transgender organization that would bring together the entire community on a regular basis and would attempt to pull together the varied interests of the transgender community. This resulted in the creation of the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE) in 1986, with Merissa as its first Executive Director. The first IFGE convention was held the following year in Chicago with the theme "Coming Together."
This year’s schedule includes two plenary sessions. The first, on Thursday, April 28, features attorney Phyllis Frye of Houston , "The Mother of the National Transgender Legal and Political Movement." Frye is the former director of the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy (ICTLEP) and organized the first national Congressional Transgender Lobby Day in 1995 for language inclusive of gender identity in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
The second plenary session, on Saturday, April 30, is titled "From Science to Advocacy: Promoting Transgender Health Care and Rights" and is presented by Dr. Eli Coleman, Director of the Program in Human Sexuality, Department of Family Practice and Community Health, University of Minnesota Medical School. The Program for Human Sexuality has one of the largest clinics for transgender services in the United States .
In addition to the two plenary sessions, there are 58 workshops, two banquets and three luncheons, at which awards will be presented.
Every year, IFGE recognizes several individuals and organizations for their work on behalf of the transgender community. This year, one award will have a Tennessee connection. On Thursday, the Partners in Diversity Award will be given to Dell Computers. Three individuals will be recognized with Trinity Awards on Friday. Nashville ‘s Marisa Richmond was a Trinity Award recipient in 2002. Then, on Saturday, the Virginia Price Lifetime Achievement Award will be announced. Last year’s winner was Marsha Botzer of the Ingersoll Gender Clinic in Seattle .