Reflections on the Gender Identity Center’s Colorado Gold Rush 2011-2014. What a Difference 4 Years Can Make!

This past weekend marked the fourth year in a row I have attended the Gender Identity Center of Colorado‘s Gold Rush conference. From their website,

The Colorado Gold Rush Conference is dedicated to the education and support of the trans* community, their families, friends, and allies.

Photo on 2-25-14 at 10.54 AMAs I took in the sights and sounds of this year’s event, I couldn’t help but think back to the first Gold Rush I attended in 2011 and how much can change in such a short amount of time…

Gold Rush 2011

I stumbled across the information about Gold Rush while doing an internet search and queried the organizers of the event with a few questions, including asking about the cost of attendance. I quickly determined I was unable to afford the cost of the two day conference and thanked them for their time.

The next email I received from the Gender Identity Center (GIC) was with “an offer I hope you can’t refuse.” They were willing scholarship the entire cost of my conference fees if I attended. This was because, as far as they knew, I was the only mental health counselor in Colorado Springs who worked with the transgender community. Therefore they felt it was essential that I come to Denver to network and connect with the folks up there. They reiterated that they didn’t do this very often, but that the need for having a Colorado Springs presence at the conference was just that important.

I was so in.

My choice was to either attend the workshops for the clinicians or the ones for the transgender attendees. I chose the latter.

I had been working long enough with trans clients to feel like I had a decent enough grasp on the “Trans 101” aspects of it. What I really wanted to learn was what was my clients wanted to learn. Meaning workshops about the effects of Hormone Replacement Therapy, the ins and outs of Gender Reassignment Surgery, Facial Feminization Surgery, Voice Coaching, Beauty and Fashion Tips, Anti-Discrimination Laws, Changing Your Legal Documents, and so on.

I also wanted to rub shoulders with everyone in the workshops! Seeing transgender clients in the confines of my office was one thing. Being able to have an in-depth conversation with someone during lunch, or at the banquet, or in a workshop was the experience I was really looking for.

I was only able to stay for one day of the conference but clearly it made a huge impression on me. I still have the email I wrote afterwards to the GIC:

March 1, 2011

Thank you so much for the scholarship to attend Gold Rush!  The experience was beyond my wildest dreams, when it came to how much I learned from it.  Not only from the presenters, but from the beautiful attendees as well.  I made many new friends and contacts.  I look very forward to sharing what I learned with my current clients, as well as future clients.  My hope is that I continue to become more and more of an expert, advocate, and welcoming presence in Colorado Springs when it comes to being of service to the transgender community.

Gold Rush 2012

I was invited to create a workshop for the conference and, of course, jumped all over that. I called it “Are We There Yet?” Creating a Road Map for your Transition Journey. I had only five people in attendance, which I think was mainly because I was presenting at the same time as Colorado’s best known Hormone Replacement Therapy physician, Dr. Anna Wegleitner (I would have attended her workshop in a heartbeat!).

However, since I was so incredibly nervous to give my presentation I took it as a blessing in disguise. Only five people got to see me bumble and stumble my way through it!

Gold Rush 2013

My second time giving a workshop at the conference. This time it was Become the Real You: Discover Your Own Unique Gender Identity. This time I was far more comfortable in front of the group which, this time, numbered around twelve attendees. This was thanks to having gotten used to how things worked at Gold Rush, feeling more “in my skin” as a gender therapist, and having discovered that I was a big fan of using a powerpoint presentation instead of just using a flipchart and markers.

I started to feel like I was “one of the gang” by now. Getting hugs from the Gender Identity Center’s staff, smiling and waving at folks I had seen at the previous year’s conference, knowing the layout of the hotel well enough to find what I needed without asking for help. Not to mention I wasn’t surprised in the least when hundreds of Boy Scouts descended upon the lobby of the hotel on the second day of the conference, since they had done so the other two years I had been there!

I was happy to see two other therapists from Colorado Springs, but still wished to see more…

Gold Rush 2014

Exciting news for everyone this year – the conference fee was waived, everyone could go for free!

After giving presentations two years in a row specifically regarding “counseling” sort of topics, I decided this time to go in a different direction. This year my workshop was called Which Goddess Are You?: Reclaiming Your Sacred Feminine Self.

Read my blog post about what inspired me to create this workshop

Although this workshop was geared mainly for attendees who identified as trans women, I was so excited to have in my audience attendees who were gender queer, gay, lesbian, bi, and trans men! This really spoke to the diversity of folks who attended this year’s conference, as well as letting me know that people from all across the spectrum are interested in discovering their Inner Goddess.

Oh, and attendance was up to 21 this time! Kudos to the GIC for having the conference free of charge this year, as it was evident that far more folks were able to attend than I had seen in the previous three years I was there.

Another change that the GIC made, while soliciting workshop proposals, was this:

The members of the Colorado Gold Rush Committee have had the pleasure of witnessing the vast changes in society’s understanding and acceptance of the trans* community. These combined experiences have blessed the committee with the inspiration to re-define the nature of this conference and expand its intended audience. The committee believes this “Renaissance” will encourage society’s continued embrace of the trans* community.

The committee is broadening the spectrum of workshop topics to include: gender queer, Significant Others, Families, Friends, and Allies (SOFFA), trans* activism, and professional training.

As I already mentioned, the diversity at the conference this year was incredible. In the past the majority of the attendees were transgender women. This year I met far more trans men, gender queer individuals, and trans allies and family members than in all of the previous years combined!

This also meant I was able to attend workshops far different from ones in the past. Learning about Trans Kin, Trans Representation in Film and Television, Gender Variant and Trans* Sexual Health, to name a few.

And here’s the most exciting change of all…

Remember back in 2011, when I was the only gender therapist from Colorado Springs who attended the conference? This year there were at least six other therapists who were there from my town. This is largely in part to the start of the Transgender Resource Coalition of Southern Colorado, a group that is still in it’s formative stages but already beginning to create an impact.

There were also far more trans folks from Colorado Springs who made their way up to the conference this year. At one point I was surrounded by therapists, clients, and friends from Colorado Springs and I couldn’t help but throw up my hands and chant, “Colorado Springs, represent!”

We’ve really come a long way from being known as the “city” in Colorado least likely to provide a safe and comfortable place for the transgender community to live.

Onto 2015!

I can only imagine what changes lie in store for Gold Rush 2015 as the lives of transgender people, and all that it entails, continues to remain silent no more. I am more inspired than ever to continue my work as a transgender therapist, educator, and advocate. Just like I predicted in 2011. 🙂

Were You at Colorado Gold Rush? Share your comments below!

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