South­ern Com­fort

An­nual con­fab delves into a trans­gen­der is­sues.

GA Voice - - Front Page - By VANDY BETH GLENN

Trans­gen­der men and women and gen­der non­con­form­ing in­di­vid­u­als from all over the United States and beyond will head to the Crowne Plaza Ho­tel near Perime­ter Mall for the 24th an­nual South­ern Com­fort Con­fer­ence Sept. 3-7 for a gath­er­ing with its own “South­ern fla­vor and charm.”

SCC is the largest gath­er­ing of its kind. Last year’s event drew 744 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to Con­fer­ence Chair JoAnn Pur­cell.

“There are other con­fer­ences like it, but noth­ing is ex­actly the same,” says Jami­son Green, pres­i­dent of the World Pro­fes­sional As­so­ci­a­tion for Trans­gen­der Health and one of this year’s key­note speak­ers. “SCC has its unique South­ern fla­vor and charm.”

There’s a so­cial as­pect to SCC; many at­ten­dees have not fully tran­si­tioned in their daily lives and are not out, so the event is a rare op­por­tu­nity for them to be them­selves, of­ten for the first time, among oth­ers in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion. In recog­ni­tion of this fact, many ac­tiv­i­ties are planned sim­ply for their en­ter­tain­ment value; this year sev­eral bands are set to per­form, and there will be karaoke and “casino night” events, as well as an out­ing to The Jun­gle on Sept. 5.

But the week­end isn’t only a so­cial af­fair. Dozens of sem­i­nars are of­fered over the course of the week­end on top­ics like gen­der-con­firm­ing surgery and other med­i­cal con­cerns, makeup, spouse and part­ner is­sues, em­ploy­ment haz­ards, and ac­tivism; and there are spe­cial pre­sen­ta­tions, like this year’s screen­ing of “Lady Valor,” a doc­u­men­tary film about Kristin Beck, the trans­gen­der woman and re­tired Navy SEAL.


Pre­sen­ters for the many sem­i­nars this year in­clude Jeff Gra­ham of Ge­or­gia Equal­ity; Mara Keis­ling, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Cen­ter for Trans­gen­der Equal­ity; and Dr. Marci Bow­ers, the trans­gen­der sur­geon and some­time re­al­ity tele­vi­sion star who per­forms gen­der-per­form­ing pro­ce­dures for both men and women.

Green, a trans­gen­der man, has at­tended SCC “at least eight times” pre­vi­ously. “SCC is a com­mu­nity gath­er­ing, a chance to see old friends, to learn some­thing new, to en­joy a few days in a unique en­vi­ron­ment, to recharge our bat­ter­ies, to ex­press our­selves in ways we may not be able to else­where in our lives.”

This year’s theme is “Friends and Fam­ily.” This year par­ents with trans­gen­der chil­dren are at­tend­ing the con­fer­ence, and they will have their own pro­gram and agenda at a Sept. 6 event, “Fam­ily Day Con­fer­ence,” that is par­al­lel to but sep­a­rate from the reg­u­lar SCC pro­gram­ming. It will in­clude ed­u­ca­tional talks by ex­perts and en­ter­tain­ment for the chil­dren at­tend­ing.


The key­note speak­ers for the reg­u­lar con­fer­ence, in ad­di­tion to Green, are trans­gen­der woman sports­writer Christina Kahrl and Chad Grif­fin, pres­i­dent of the Hu­man Rights Cam­paign.

Grif­fin’s in­clu­sion at SCC is note­wor­thy, given the prob­lem­atic his­tory of HRC’s ad­vo­cacy for the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity. In 2007, HRC’s then-pres­i­dent Joe Sol­monese came to SCC and pledged that HRC would not support a ver­sion of the fed­eral Em­ploy­ment Non-Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act that was not trans-in­clu­sive; later that same year, when now re­tired U.S. Rep. Barney Frank re­moved trans­gen­der pro­tec­tions from the lan­guage of the bill, Sol­monese and HRC did con­tinue to support it.

“There’s a lot of ugly his­tory there,” says Kahrl, one of the na­tional base­ball ed­i­tors for and a writer for ESPN’s base­ball cov­er­age. This year will be her first ap­pear­ance at SCC but re­calls the worst con­fer- ence be­ing “when Joe Sol­monese au­thored the worst tac­ti­cal decision in the his­tory of LGBT po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism in this coun­try — but to no point, be­cause ENDA wasn’t go­ing to pass in 2007 whether he threw us un­der the bus or not.”

Green has sim­i­lar feel­ings on the mat­ter. He served on an ad­vi­sory board to HRC, the HRC Business Coun­cil, from 2002 to 2007. “I re­signed when they sup­ported Barney Frank’s in­ten­tion to strip gen­der iden­tity from the ENDA bill,” he says. “[A]s if George Bush was ac­tu­ally go­ing to sign it on that ba­sis.”

Still, both note that HRC has also been an ally to the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity in the past, and see rea­sons for op­ti­mism that it will be so again in the fu­ture.

“To­day you have some re­ally im­pres­sive trans ac­tivists work­ing un­der HRC’s aus­pices, Kahrl says. She sees them “putting the power of HRC to work for trans folk on the state and lo­cal level. Do I want to see more of that? You betcha. Do I think Chad Grif­fin wants to de­liver on that? I re­ally hope so.”

For his part, Green says, “I ex­pect there are some peo­ple who are wait­ing for Chad Grif­fin to slip up the way Joe Sol­monese did back in 2007. There are peo­ple who are ex­pect­ing the worst, and some peo­ple who hold onto their grudges tight. Per­son­ally, I think this is a new day, there are new peo­ple, there is a stronger com­mit­ment to trans­gen­der peo­ple and our is­sues from within HRC. I think it serves us as a com­mu­nity to ex­tend an olive branch to HRC, and to ac­cept their will­ing­ness to pur­sue a good re­la­tion­ship with us.

Chad Grif­fin was un­avail­able for this story. The GA Voice did con­tact HRC’s Di­rec­tor of Foun­da­tion Pro­gram Strate­gies, Jay Brown, a trans­gen­der man. He re­sponded in an email mes­sage, “I’ve at­tended sev­eral of South­ern Com­fort’s con­fer­ences and have wit­nessed what a trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence it is for so many of the at­ten­dees. We’re proud to be a spon­sor of this year’s con­fer­ence and I know Chad is look­ing for­ward to be­ing a part of the event as well.”

“HRC is deeply com­mit­ted to ad­vanc­ing trans­gen­der equal­ity,” Brown said. “Our work in­cludes en­sur­ing trans­gen­der in­clu­sive health care through our cor­po­rate ef­forts, ad­vanc­ing trans­gen­der pro­tec­tions in ci­ties and states across the na­tion, and work­ing to ad­dress the needs of trans­gen­der youth in adop­tion and foster care.”


This year’s SCC will oc­cur at a time when the pub­lic pro­file of trans­gen­der peo­ple has prob­a­bly never been higher; the Net­flix TV show “Orange Is The New Black” has been a big hit and trans­gen­der ac­tress Lav­erne Cox has be­come a break­out star. She ap­peared on the June 9 cover of Time mag­a­zine with the head­line “The Trans­gen­der Tip­ping Point.”

“There does seem to be con­sid­er­ably more hope, more re­spect, more op­por­tu­ni­ties, more ac­cess to health care and so­cial ser­vices, but the fact is that we still have a long way to go,” Green says. “I think as younger peo­ple who are not so prej­u­diced about LGBT is­sues take over lead­ing roles in jour­nal­ism, in var­i­ous busi­nesses, even in gov­ern­ment, we’re go­ing to see more ac­cep­tance, but I’m not as san­guine that we’re on the down­hill side of the strug­gle for trans­gen­der equal­ity.”

Kahrl says, “There is so much ex­cel­lence, so much tal­ent, among us, that I’m re­ally op­ti­mistic that we’re poised upon that tip­ping point, but we need to push it over col­lec­tively, to­gether, and hap­pily.”

Key­note speak­ers for this year’s South­ern Com­fort Con­fer­ence are Hu­man Rights Cam­paign Pres­i­dent Chad Grif­fin, trans­gen­der woman sports­writer Christina Kahrl, and Jami­son Green, pres­i­dent of World Pro­fes­sional As­so­ci­a­tion for Trans­gen­der Health. (Cour­tesy pho­tos)

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