Fort Lauderdale Rolls Out Red Carpet for Transgender Travelers

by Kelsy Chauvin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday December 19, 2014

Many cities proudly point to their LGBT inclusiveness to promote diversity among tourists. From New Orleans to Stockholm to Toronto and beyond, gays and lesbians are enjoying the welcome mat now happily unfurled around the globe.

But the first city to make a splash in the transgender tourism market may surprise you-and Fort Lauderdale wouldn't have it any other way.

In November, Fort Lauderdale honored Transgender Awareness Month by launching the first-ever travel initiative geared toward trans men and women. The announcement coincided with several components meant to extend the city's sunny arms to a segment of the LGBT market that's often overlooked, even within the queer community.

"We wanted to reaffirm that Fort Lauderdale is diverse, it's safe, and it's an open, welcoming destination for all travelers," said Richard Gray, Fort Lauderdale tourism's marketing director for the LGBT market. "We had to raise the bar for trans inclusion."

Gray is the guru behind the city's long-running diversity efforts, which have led the charge to attract queer travelers. "We are the only convention and visitors bureau on the globe that has a designated LGBT department," he says, highlighting how far they've come. "When we launched in 1996, we said the word 'rainbow' because the word 'gay' was too risky."

Those "baby steps," he says, are long gone, with more than a million LGBT travelers spending upwards of $1 million in Fort Lauderdale in 2013. "We felt that we could do more for transgender travel, and make our destination more accessible," says Gray, noting that the first step was literally putting the "T" before "LGB" - which they did, for starters, at the new page.

One of the city's first major accomplishments is as new host of the Southern Comfort Conference, the world's largest transgender community event. The city will welcome the conference for the next three years (and possibly beyond), luring it away from Atlanta for the first time in its long history. The 25th annual Southern Comfort will take place in Fort Lauderdale, September 27 to October 5, 2015.

Transgender Travel Trends

Another initiative took place this summer, when Gray's team commissioned the first-ever survey of transgender travelers in North America. Conducted by San Francisco-based LGBT market-research firm Community Marketing & Insights, the survey gathered opinions of 700 self-identified members of the domestic transgender community. It explored transgender travel issues and interests, identifying the market's overall travel motivations, needs and priorities.

The results, Gray says, "were very promising." Data showed that 62 percent of transgender people travel solo, and the majority prefer a mid-size hotel, especially compared to a small inn or large resort. Economy travel is imperative to 54 percent of respondents, and most are just fine with "transgender" as a label. The survey's 50 travel-related categories yielded a wealth of data that's still being analyzed, but Gray is optimistic that the information will lead to more great insights that support future advertising, tourism campaigns and community-building opportunities that help "make travel easier for transgender people," he says.

He says that Fort Lauderdale tourism's diversity and marketing efforts complement Broward County's super liberal standing, bolstered by the fact that 15 percent of Greater Fort Lauderdale's population identifies as lesbian, gay or transgender. The tourism board collaborates with the Pride Center of Florida-one of the country's largest gay centers, now celebrating two decades of year-round events and community outreach. It also proudly supports the World AIDS Museum and Educational Center, which celebrated its grand opening on December 2, 2014.

Central Ft. Lauderdale also is home to the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, one of the only permanent spaces in the U.S. devoted to exhibitions relating to LGBT history and culture.

Next fall's Southern Comfort Conference will add one more splashy annual event to Ft. Lauderdale's roster, alongside other biggies like Pride South Florida each Feburary/March, and the Gay Days Ft. Lauderdale expo in November.

Gray couldn't be more proud of the milestones made by his organization and his city over the past three decades, and believes it's had a beneficial ripple effect from coast to coast.

"We started with baby steps - and now we've taken long, purposeful strides, and we're putting transgender before gay and lesbian outreach. Also, very importantly, we're educating our own community. Because not all of our community fully understands the transgender community, and doesn't always give it enough credit or enough thought," he says. "This makes me feel like we're making a meaningful impact."

Learn more about Greater Fort Lauderdale at (800) 22-SUNNY or visit

Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBTQ interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.