More than 400 transgender activists and allies from across the United States recently wrapped up a five-day conference in Broward County where they provided each other with support, strategy and Southern Comfort.
“It’s crucial for education,” said Ashley Brundage, a Tampa-based banker for PNC Bank attending her third Southern Comfort conference.
Southern Comfort is a Georgia-based group that in 2015 celebrated its 25th anniversary. From the website: “Whatever your connection is? Whether your a transsexual, cross-dresser or in between; a spouse, partner or family member; straight, gay, bi or omni-sexual; post-op, pre-op or non-op; young, old; married, single; FtM or MtF – if transgender is an issue in your life, WELCOME!”
This year’s conference, which ran Sept. 29 to Oct. 3, was the first in Florida. It was held at the Bonaventure Resort & Spa in Weston.
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“Being in a new area, we educate the area. The hotel staff here has to go through sensitivity training and they learn about transgender. The city has to write a letter of welcoming. The municipalities get involved. The education happens right from the top and works its way down, it’s exponentially important to the transgender community,” Brundage said.
“I work for PNC and I am their transgender advisor. I go to various events across the country and promote goodwill to the transgender community. Being a transgender woman myself, is something I pride myself on, and being as involved in as many things as possible,” she said. “I actually interviewed and identified as a transgender woman in the interview process. PNC actually hired me to work there.”
Brundage said “the tricky thing about the trans community is that sometimes when people are done transitioning, now they don’t want to identify as transgender anymore,” that “just as quickly as we gain allies, we are losing allies on the back end. When you have that dynamic to the transgender community, it’s always very hard to have strength in numbers.”
Despite massive publicity these days, many people, including gays and lesbians, still have misinformation about the transgender community, said Paul Abad, a Fort Lauderdale gay man who also works at PNC Bank.
“At PNC Bank, I am the senior banker for the Broward market. I’m also the community liaison between the gay, lesbian and transgender communities. I’m on the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender council for the company, as well as being the liaison with Equality Florida,” Abad said.
“My experience up until now with the transgender community has been very minimal. I have had a few experiences with Equality Florida, having an experience to work with [Broward-based trans teen Jazz Jennings],” he said. “I have only two clients that are going through the transition process and we have been able to assist them with the name changes on their accounts and debit cards. This being the first transgender conference in the Broward market has really opened my eyes to their struggles and reality of the hatred and the obstacles that they are trying to overcome on a daily basis.”
Abad described Southern Comfort as “an eye opener.”
“There’s so much education that has to be given to society, how people feel who they are and having to educate people and show people it’s not only exterior, but it’s also your interior. It’s not just a gender, it’s not just what you’re interested in male-female as a sexual orientation, but it’s who you are as an individual and how you relate to who you are,” he said. “As a gay man, this is education that’s for the masses. Even in the gay and lesbian community in Wilton Manors, we don’t have much of a transgender community. Me being one of the few gay people here in this conference, it really opens up my eyes to the struggles they’re going through. My sexual orientation is a small thing that comes into play. These are people who are still fighting for so many liberties that I have just been afforded, and we have had for such a long time.”
Conference speakers included Jazz, who this summer had her own reality TV show, and Gina Duncan of Orlando, Equality Florida’s transgender inclusion director.
“One of the things we’re most proud of … a year-long in the making, we just published a transgender resource guide. A statewide transgender resource guide,” Duncan told attendees at a Friday luncheon. “When someone is looking for an endocrinologist in Fort Myers, they can click, click and find those resources.
“I remember when I was transitioning nine years ago, my biggest frustration was that I couldn't find quality resources. And when I did find those resources, it was word of mouth. These weren’t vetted, known, quality resource providers. That has been put together by our transaction advisory board and is on our site, so that young people can find the information, be able to get access to hormones without going online and risking their health in doing so.”
Among the attendees: Amelia Gonzalez, 24, of Pompano Beach and her mother, Lillian.
“I have a very supportive mom, always,” Amelia said. “I started transitioning a year-and-a-half ago. I first came out being gay, so my parents were already supportive of that. When I came out being transgender, it was really hard for them at first, but they kind of got adapted to the situation, when they saw me transitioning, knowing that I really wanted it.”
Lillian acknowledged that when Amelia came out as trans, “at first it was shocking.”
“I love her. She’s still my daughter,” Lillian said.
“She had to get used to the situation,” Amelia interjected.
“Not really, not really,” Lillian said. “I think she was more afraid how I was going to take it. She’s my daughter. I love her. She came from me, so she’s part of me. Like the other three. It’s an unconditional love. A mother’s love is unconditional.”
Facebook photo album
To view and tag photos from the Southern Comfort conference, click here.