I just returned from the Southern Comfort Conference, now located in Weston, FL. SCC was held in Atlanta for 24 years before moving down to Weston in 2015 for its 25th anniversary. I’ve attended as a vendor every year since 2010, but decided, for many reasons (but primarily because of the timing of my Maine Event), to skip last year. After the conference concluded, I heard mixed reviews from attendees I knew. Some people were pleasantly surprised by the change of venue, and some were disappointed when comparing 2015 to prior years. I decided to bite the bullet and see for myself how SCC would be in its second year in its new home, and I have to say I fall into the latter camp.
There were several issues I saw, both with the conference, and with it being located at the Bonaventure Resort. Some are fixable, some are not (at least, not without another location change). My main concern though, is in the programming. I saw very little for people not planning to transition, and nothing specifically aimed at people who are gender fluid, non-binary, or crossdressing part-time. I was asked by one first-time attendee if all the conference seminars are basically doctor infomercials. I also heard of several presenters that simply didn't show up, and those presentation slots were not rescheduled.
I had offered to do a makeup demo when I signed up to be a vendor, and was told I’d be contacted by the presentation coordinator. I never was so I assumed, apparently incorrectly, that maybe someone else was already doing something along that vein. I know other events I’ve been to, notable First Event and Keystone, seek out presenters when they see a gap in content for their scheduling. It always behooves conference coordinators to try and make sure there is something for everyone at any point in the day.
There was also a noticeable lack of vendors. There were plenty of tables with resources for attendees, but very few selling either products or services. Again, there were no vendors with wares for the part-time crossdresser.
So that leaves me wondering how SCC will sustain going forward. In my experience, many people stop attending conferences after transition, or at least scale back their attendance of seminars. If that segment of the TG community is where SCC is placing all their effort, it means constantly finding new attendees for the conference. There are so many other ways to find resources outside of conferences; how long will people continue the expense of travelling to and attending SCC if there’s not a more diverse offering?
There’s a big part of me that doesn’t want to see Southern Comfort go the way of Be All or Gold Rush, or any of several other conferences. I want to try and make it better, offer presentations on foundation garments, makeup, and deportment. The feedback I've offered regarding the future of SCC has been met with a resistance that makes the other part of me just want to focus on supporting other events or direct my focus on organizing my own.
Feeding into my decision will definitely be an awareness that next year could be the last, or any year after that. I usually plan my travel for the conference season in June or July, so I have plenty of time to decide whether to attend. For now, I’ll keep my focus on Ghouls’ Night Out, followed by the Lake Erie Gala, and First Event on the more distant horizon.