When I moved to the greater Fort Lauderdale Area, all I previously knew of this destination was from two sources 1) what friends had told me of the wonderful accepting community, the nightlife, the beaches, and restaurants and 2) what I experienced one drunken blacked out night before I left on a gay cruise back in 2009. The next and second time I would set foot in Fort Lauderdale was when I drove from Maine to FLL back in 2013 and I haven’t left since.
Moving from Portland, Maine, I was going to expect there to be great differences in this large metropolitan area and I was looking for that. One of the main reasons I was moving to Southern Florida was to break out of the Maine norm. In most cities, you can put yourself into a bubble, associate with a limited group, and stick to what you find comforting. I think when I moved here, I fell back into a bubble. One of my posts that received a lot of traction was Is Being A Bear More Desirable In Some Towns Than Others? In the post, I mentioned the feelings I had at the time and what others were saying about the bar scene and the gay community. Was that true? Was Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manores a gay community that was run by bears? If I wanted to not explore life and see what the world had to offer, I would have stayed in little picturesque 97% white Maine. Broward County has a population larger than my home state. I am sure I could find more here. I needed to pop that bubble.
One of my first major events I covered for Instinct Magazine was Gay Days Fort Lauderdale (After Gay Days Success, What's The Next Inter/National Event Coming To Fort Lauderdale?). I had a fabulous time at the W in Fort Lauderdale. Not only did I meet some great men from all over the country, it was also where I met Richard Gray, managing director of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitor’s Bureau’s LGBT campaign.
In 1995, Richard Gray proposed to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) a business plan for marketing Fort Lauderdale as a gay destination. It was accepted and starting in 1996 with a $35,000 gay marketing initiative, Gray went to work promoting the city and what it had to offer tourists. Within a half a decade the number of gay resorts in the area grew to 30. His work and the work of others in the CVB has been so successful and the returns so great that his position of LGBT Managing Director for the Fort Lauderdale CVB was made fulltime three years ago and now has an annual budget of $1 million. The budget is impressive, but what also needs to be mentioned is that Richard Gray is one of a kind. He stated that there are no other Convention and Visitors Bureaus in North America or Internationally that he knows of with an employee whose sole responsibility is the LGBT market.
It was a pleasure meeting Richard Gray and he opened my eyes to see what else Fort Lauderale had to offer. He stated Fort Lauderdale is the gay hub of Southern Florida and there will always be something going on every time you turn around. In the past year, I’ve been turning around quite a bit. Seeing his enthuiasm for his job, his city, his community, it has made me look for more of what he was talking about. I just had to open my eyes.
One of the LGBT events I attended last year was Ujimamen. www.ujimamen.net . Lorenzo Robertson, Conference Coordinator, invited me to attend his gathering.
What is the Ujima Men's Collective
We believe that as Black men; we must do as our motto articulates: "take responsibility for our greater selves." Uijma Men’s Collective will take responsibility by:
The Ujima Men’s Collective plans to take responsibility by educating Black same gender loving men to enlighten themselves through conferences, workshops, mentoring and trainings. UMC educates Black same gender loving men to make better life choices to life lives that are in the light and not in the shadows.
Empowering Black same gender loving men to understand and accept who they are and not feel the need to hide or to deny themselves. UMC empowers Black same gender loving men to make better life choices to keep positive in life situations.
Encourage Black same gender loving men to be the best men they can be and to strive for greatness in all things they attempt. UMC encourages Black men to make safer sex choices to keep them HIV negative. – www.ujimamen.net
Due to scheduling, I could not attend the entire conference, but was so energized by the attendees, Lorenzo, and the topics that were to be discusses, it made me want to cancel my appointments. No, I am not a black man, but the subject matter that was going to be covered in the breakout sessions … I wanted to attend them all. Here are my quick notes about some of the different sessions.
- Living Happy Joyous and Free. A small group discussion hosted by a recovering alcohol and drug addict. How do you deal with people and clients in rehab? How can you help yourself as well as others? Maintaining long term sobriety in our community. Mental health issues in our community.
- Who Do We Want To Be Today. What it is like to date different men of color. Talk about stereotypes and how they affect our community.
- Pride Center. Young. Wise. And Free. We do not communicate to our youth. Proper communication is needed. Especially around prevention and being safe. Difference between awareness and acceptance.
- Evolution of Spirituality. Black same gender loving men. Black church is the most powerful entity in the community. Many have been church hurt. Some that do not go to church anymore feel that something is missing. Most of us accept Christianity. We were converted to it. Talk about ancient African religions. Talk about spirituality and religion.
- Leading By Example. The journey he (presenter) and colleagues have had. Florida Gay Men's Work Group, a community prevention partnership group. Intersection of being black. Discuss being a same gender loving person and a leader
- The Truth About Relationships. Honeycomb hideout. Talk about the ins and outs and the complications. When he says he's ready and he isn't. Things you know and don't know.
- Assumptions. Implicit bias. Taught and raised with attitudes and beliefs we have. Walk into a room. Police. If I see someone, will he like me? How to check ourselves. When someone sees us, what assumptions are they making about me? We have to be ready for whatever anyone has to project against us. Learn how not to carry others people's luggage. Will also talk about hiv AIDS but not the focus. Bars before the bars. Why blacks do not go to health care, do not seek care.
- Exposed – Body Image And The Gay Man. Look at the issue of body image. Gay men have a disproportionately high negative image of their bodies. Covers a series that was at the Pride Center – photographs and interviews of black men and their bodies.
I will definitely look up the Ujimamen Conference for next year (www.ujimamen.net) and cannot wait to see what Lorenzo Robertson has planned. It is currently scheduled for October 19-21, 2018, but there are other one day conferences before then.
Our community is full of variety and Fort Lauderdale looks to celebrate that. The city had great plans to continue to embrace all members of our TLGB community with its second year of hosting the Southern Comfort Transgender Conference (SCTC), but unfortunately Hurricane Irma had other plans.
From 1991 through 2014, Southern Comfort, one the country’s largest conferences for the trans community, was held in Atlanta, Georgia. Attendance peaked in 2011 at over 1,000 conference attendees and the idea of a new home for the SCTC was bounced around. Alexis Dee, SCTC Board President, and Richard Gray worked together to relocate the SCTC to Fort Lauderdale. Gray stated:
They liked our commitment of raising the bar for trans inclusion. Around the same time, I organized a round-table discussion with some national leaders and also met with the research firm Community Marketing & Insights to put a transgender travel study together, because there had never been one.
We found that 62 percent of transgender people travel alone, many because they’re ‘stealth’ — often they have a partner who has no idea they’re transgender. The Southern Comfort Conference is mostly male to female and that’s what we’ve looked at. Female to male blend easier; male to female often don’t. By far their biggest concerns were physical and verbal violence and a lack of gender-neutral restrooms. Unlike the gay market, trans travelers are more in line with budget travelers, without a lot of disposable income,” Gray said. – SouthFloridaGayNews.com
“The focus of the conference has always been to educate attendees, provide them with information and connect them to qualified medical service providers,” Dee said.
Some highlights from the conference were to be:
- Dr. Dana Bevan, biopsychologist will discuss some of the answers to the question “Why are you and I transgender?” The talk will cite casual observations, misinformation, and review scientific evidence in potential factors such as genetics, epigenetics, early learning, culture, and more. Dr. Bevan has written three books on being transgender and has given talks on transgender science at WPATH, USPATH, and the National Trans Health Conference among others.
- Dr. David Rosow, Dr. Adam Loyd and Dr. Jennylee Diaz from the University of Miami School of Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology will discuss medical surgical treatments and voice training for matching gender identity, including speech therapy for modulating pitch, intonation patterns, and resonance.
- Dr. Sherman Leis, Professor, and Chairman of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine will discuss options for female to male surgeries including facial feminization, breast augmentation, and bottom surgery.
Some of the workshops were to include:
- Science educator and SCC alumna Michelle Cooper will talk to guests about “Coping with Inability to Transition” for those who cannot or do not physically transition for financial, familial, or health reasons. Michelle identifies as a male to female transsexual, not in transition. In addition to SCTC Michelle is a member of Tri-Ess, Tava, Pink Essence, and the former Southern Belle Society.
- Markie Anna Parker will share her experience with “Later-in-Life Transitions.” Markie transitioned at the age of 63 with support from her wife of 30 years. Markie served as the Chief of the Investigations Section for California’s Department of Public Health, is a Vietnam veteran and mental health counselor among her many roles.
- Ashley Brundage, Inclusion Consultant for PNC Bank and Tampa resident will speak on employment, sharing about her own transition, discussing workplace quality, diversity and inclusion. And attorney and activist Debra Soshoux from Korenberg Abramowitz & Feldun, Los Angeles will talk about “Sex, Gender and the Law.”
If you are interested, keep your eyes open and your browser locked on https://sccfla.org/
I was around last year for the conference and it was such a joy to see how our community received the influx of transgender visitors. The town was so accepting, establishments, were even more rainbow-fied that weekend. I was saddened when I heard the conference was canceled for it really brought a different energy into the nightlife.
The commitment is large from the Sunny.org Campaign to attract transgender visitors.
The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau will launch a new global marketing and advertising campaign on January 9th featuring three transgender models, and will become the world’s first destination to use transgender models in mainstream destination advertising. Greater Fort Lauderdale’s campaign, which also features straight, gay and lesbian models, follows the destination’s long and storied history in LGBTQ marketing and is directed at a largely millennial and younger mind-set audience to showcase the destination’s image as an authentic, diverse and inclusive brand. – Sunny.org
Another conference was held just this week in the greater Fort Lauderdale area with a different focus. The Massachusetts-based activist Robyn Ochs hosted a workshop called Beyond Bisexuality 101 on September 20th at Florida Atlantic University. Ochs had another workshop planned for Sept. 18 at the University of Miami, but it was postponed due to Hurricane Irma. After dealing with that lack of information most of her life, Ochs is looking to teach people about gender and sexual identities so that they don’t have to feel isolated like she did. “I came out 41 years ago as bisexual,” Ochs said. “I came out at a time where there was no visibility of bisexual people. I had access to zero resources, I had no support, no information, nowhere to turn for affirmation.”
Her sessions start with participants filling out an anonymous survey which helps guide the conversation later in the workshop. Using that method, Ochs said she can help educate people about the differences within the community and create comfort in being able to talk honestly.
“I look to confirm the messiness and complexity of identity,” she said. “So many of us feel guilty or strange for having thoughts that don’t fit in these simple or binary structures. We need to recognize those things as beautiful. We need to see more clearly than we do, we need to understand that there is no one lesbian experience, gay experience, bi experience,” Ochs said. “When I think of the LGBT communities, I think of many overlapping communities. Not everyone sees the experience the same way. We need to understand and recognize the differences within the community,” she continued. “The part that I focus on is that even within the labels there is a lot of variety within each label and we need to recognize those. My hope is that a very broad range of people attend, I like working with a wide range of people,” she said. “I think everyone will get something different from the program, but everyone will get something important.” – SFGN.com
The above conferences are just a little taste of what happens every week, every month in the greater Fort Lauderdale area. These events mentioned are just some of the occurrences for the end of September and the beginning of October. There's so much more happening in this paradise for the city is truly a TLGB, BLTG, LGBTQI, a Rainbow Family destination. No matter what letter is in your head and heart, FLL welcomes you with open arms.
EMMY award winning Miami video production company and creative video agency 66 Films shoots the behind the scenes video for Passport Magazine’s 2016 swimwear issue. Shot in sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida for VisitFlorida.com and The Fort Lauderdale Visitor and Conventions Bureau (Sunny.org). Free 2 Be features the first ever Trans and Cisgender swimsuit cover shoot. Produced by Don Tuthill & Robert Adams of Passport Magazine and directed, shot, and edited by Freddy Rodriguez of 66 Films. Iconic fashion photographer Dennis Dean shot the male models in swimwear by iconic brands: Chris Lopez Studio, Andrew Christian, and Sauvage.