A year of planning and sometimes panic came together on Wednesday, March 19 at the Philadelphia Airport Hilton Hotel as Transgender 2003, the 17th annual IFGE Convention registration opened at 10:00 A.M. As co-chairwomen Kristine James and Alison Laing herded the attendees, vendors, and hotel the premier event of the Transgender Community got underway.The 2003 International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE) convention was held from Wednesday, March 19th through Sunday morning, March 23rd. Seminars and workshops covered a wide variety of issues of interest to people in the crossdressing, transgender, transsexual and gender variant communities, as well as family, friends, and persons interested in learning about gender issues.

The keynote speakers at the opening plenary session were Bernard and Terry Reed, the parents of a transsexual woman, who are the principal organizers of a British organization called GIRES, dedicated to educating the public and advocating for transgender rights in Britain.

With attendees from Europe to Hawaii, the convention did have a bit of international flavor. One Saturday session featured Dr. Milton Diamond, who is one of the people responsible for exposing the fraud being perpetrated by Dr. John Money in reporting on the "John/Joan" case. Dr. Diamond was flown in from Hawaii by the Rikki Swin Institute.

More than 170 attendees from around the world converged on the registration desks for the conference and the hotel as old friends greeted each other in the lobby and new friends were welcomed. The excitement was contagious! The hotel staff joined in the fun as they graciously welcomed each new arrival and helped get everyone settled into spacious well-appointed hotel rooms. To a person, the hotel staff was very accepting of their guests and provided outstanding service to each. This attitude was enhanced by the training provided to all employees by the Hilton Hotel management (who paid the overtime costs) and the IFGE advance team.

The Players Sports Bar, just off the hotel lobby, became the ?meeting place? for attendees beginning with the ?Ladies Night? reception on Wednesday evening. Everyone was welcomed by the famous Avalon String band, one of Philadelphia?s outstanding mummers organizations. Attendees blended in easily with other hotel guests relaxing in the bar as they answered questions from the curious (Which bathroom do you use?), did some outreach and caught up on the lives of old friends.

The event started off with Ben Franklin (you have seen him on television a lot) presenting a letter of greeting from Philadelphia?s Mayor John Street. The first plenary session was lead by Bernard and Terry Reed from the Gender Identity Research & Education Society (GIRES) located in London, England. Dr. Milton (please call me ?Mickey?) Diamond was the featured speaker this year, brought to us by Ms Rikki Swin and the Rikki Swin Institute. Dr Diamond spoke several times to packed conference rooms. When not delivering presentations, Mickey could be found in discussions with individuals and groups all week long.

More than 40 other presenters (to list them all would require several pages and we would still miss someone) offered education and personal help programs to the attendees. From medical, legal, and emotional aspects to a light hearted discussion on things your mother would have taught you, our world-class presenters were greatly appreciated by all attendees.

The conference staff and members of the IFGE Board of Directors seemed to be everywhere working with attendees, vendors, and the hotel staff. Every scheduled event came off as planned, on time, and with all necessary support equipment items. (Kristine and Alison had their hands full trying to keep everything on time). All right, so there were a few bumps on the road to perfection but no one seemed to notice.

The many happy emotional moments were too many to count but not all the special events took place in the ballroom. One new girl arrived, alone and terrified, not knowing anyone but determined to attend her first event (remember that day?we have all been there). Several seasoned attendees took her by the hand and introduced her to those who could be of help. As she worked her way into her new life, her spouse (to that point very unaccepting and confrontational), happened to meet Dr. Sandra Cole in the hotel lobby and later called and said she would be attending the banquet on Saturday Night. With the support of many new friends, the evening went very well. At this writing things are going well for them, the story is still unfolding, and we have no doubt all will be well. And then there is the story of Vic and his dad a trans pre-teen, many people just starting the real-life journey and so many other joyful and emotional things that happened. By noon on Saturday, Kristine was an emotional basket case. The frustration suffered over the last year and at the convention, were all worth it when everyone finds themselves and their future in a venue like this.

Special awards were presented for outstanding community service. On Thursday, Julie Johnson (now past chair of IFGE) presented the Diversity award to Glaxo-Smith-Kline for their open employment policies the provide the venue for a transitioning person to continue their transition on the job. The Trinity awards were presented by Moonhawk River Stone, (recently elected IFGE Chair) to Dottie Laing, Monica Holmes and Barbara Warren for their long and dedicated service to our community. The Virginia Price award was presented by Virginia Prince 90 years old) to Alison and Dottie Laing who have worked tirelessly for many years for IFGE, Fan Fair and many trans-community organizations and individuals.

It was not all work and no play. Thursday evening, many attendees went out to dinner on-the-town at one of Philadelphia?s famous restaurants. Friday evening, Cross Dressers International from New York City, which raised funds for the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital. This was followed by a round-robin bus to take everyone to some of Philadelphia?s famous night clubs. Saturday found everyone dressed in their finest gowns or tuxedos, enjoying the Philadelphia?s Gay Men?s chorus and an evening of dancing.

Between 1:00 A.M. and 3:00 A.M. Sunday morning there were many tearful good-byes in the hotel lobby as we all headed off to a few hours sleep before long drives or flights home. We all promised to return next year for the 18th IFGE Convention in this same hotel on April 1st. We all departed having promised to bring a dozen friends with us next year. So, if you did not attend this year you missed a fantastic conference but not to worry, your friends who did will hound you to the far corners of the planet until you promise to attend next year.