Fort Lauderdale Beach in Florida
Credit: Slow Images

As North Carolina and Mississippi push forward with anti-transgender legislation, one Florida city has proudly assumed the title of the country’s most transgender-friendly destination. Last year, after commissioning the largest-ever study on the country’s trans population, Fort Lauderdale became the only destination in the world to actively welcome transgender travelers.

A national media campaign, “Where Happy Meets Go Lucky,” emphasizes the city’s inclusion of the transgender community, and a dedicated landing page lists important local resources, such as regional advocacy groups as well as locations of gender-neutral restrooms and medical help. In a major coup, Fort Lauderdale also convinced the country’s largest transgender conference, Southern Comfort, to relocate after 24 years in Atlanta.

“This was not a one-time effort,” says Richard Gray, managing director of the LGBT Market for the Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We’re in this for the long run and we want to lead the way.” To do so, Gray and his team analyzed the results of their study, in which nearly 50 percent of respondents expressed fear of physical violence or verbal abuse while on vacation.

T+L spoke with Alexis Dee, president of the board of directors for Southern Comfort Conference, for ways transgender travelers can navigate these fears and still travel. Here is her advice:

Know your rights

Going through airport security can be daunting to transgender travelers, but as long as the name on the booking reservation matches the name on the photo ID, they should be fine, regardless of whether the traveler’s appearance matches what the ID says. The TSA legally cannot ask anyone to remove prosthesis, and has strict policies to protect the rights of trans travelers.

Stay with a supportive brand

Checking in at hotels also involves presenting a photo ID. Staying with large brands that have supportive policies helps eliminate the risk of confusion from front desk staff. Dee and Gray both highlight Marriott as a particularly friendly company; its marketing has made a point of including transgender people. (See here for other LGBT friendly brands that T+L loves.)

Have a medical letter

As a last resort in circumstances when travelers need to show an ID, Dee recommends having a letter from their doctor explaining that they are indeed the person named on the document even though they appear differently. Having this in the back pocket should help ease travelers' concerns.

Frequent Safe Destinations

“Only 20 states have anti-discrimination laws that protect transgender individuals,” says Dee. “But that doesn’t mean transgender people should only travel to those states.” Dee herself lives in North Carolina, and highlights Wilmington as an extremely safe destination. “It comes down to common sense,” she says. Most states, regardless of legislation, have welcoming businesses and attractions. New Orleans, Austin and, yes, Fort Lauderdale come to mind. For more ideas on LGBT-friendly destinations, look right here.