Op-ed: Heading to Trans Mecca

It may seem like just another ordinary conference, but the Southern Comfort Conference helped one woman come all the way out.

BY Stephanie Battaglino

August 11 2014 4:00 AM ET

Stephanie Battaglino

This post originally appeared in a blog for Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.

Magic happens each September in Atlanta. For 24 years, the transgender community has gathered together to renew friendships, to socialize, to learn and to just be. The magic I describe is the Southern Comfort Conference. It is the largest gathering of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals in the United States. It is, for many who make the pilgrimage, a transgender mecca of sorts.

It certainly was for me. When I attended my first SCC back in 2005 I had yet to come out at work as my authentic self. Many of my friends who had attended in previous years told me, “you just have to go ... it’s amazing ... it’s like nothing you’ll ever experience. It can help you.” The online chat rooms I would visit back then were brimming with anticipatory conversations many months before the event. So this got me to thinking that this should be something I should plan for. Anyone who was anyone in the trans community would be there. How could I not go? I just had to do this.

So I did. At that time, I was out in other aspects of my life, but I was still working on a number of others with regard to my transitional journey. I had been to other, smaller conferences before, but what greeted me at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia that year I was not prepared for — it changed my life. I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people there — nearly 1,000 — some who were just like me and others who were not. I was struck by not only the size of the event, but also by the vast diversity within our community. I had never seen anything like it. All shapes, all sizes, the full spectrum of our amazing community was on display. A coat of many colors, to say the least.

But the coolest thing, perhaps the most impactful thing to me, was that I could feel an overwhelming sense of family running through every aspect of the conference: the workshops, the plenary sessions, and the annual gala. It made me realize that, despite the differences in our outward appearances, we are a community. Yes, perhaps the most diverse community within a diverse community, but a collective just the same. We gather together at Southern Comfort to embrace this diversity, to learn from each other, to celebrate our uniqueness and draw strength from each other for the journey ahead.

This is why I am so proud and excited to be a part of Out & Equal’s partnership with the Southern Comfort Conference this year. We have worked again with SCC to create a one-day program in the Ashford Room September 5 that focuses specifically on issues of workplace equality impacting the transgender community. The Out & Equal Workplace Advocates events will feature three panels/workshops throughout the day, in addition to general sessions that feature the leading voices in the LGBT equality movement from the Transgender community. I am thrilled to be moderating one of these panels: Finding and Keeping a Job while Trans.

I look forward to seeing you at the Southern Comfort Conference this September. Join me and together we will create workplace equality, a community and, a family.

STEPHANIE BATTAGLINO is the founder and owner of Follow Your Heart LLC.

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