Esprit conference returns to Port Angeles for 18th year

PORT ANGELES – Esprit 2007 – promoted as “The Pacific Northwest’s Premier Transgender Convention” – begins today at the waterfront Red Lion Hotel.

Dedicated to the transgender issues of people born as men trying to live as women, the conference is meant to provide new participants with confidence to be women, strengthen the transgender community and give participants a week’s vacation where the mountains meet the sea.

Workshops at the convention focus on transgender identity issues and support for significant others and offer tips on fashion, hair and make up.

The convention also raises thousands of dollars for its “charity of choice,” the Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County.

The conference is open to male cross dressers, the small percentage of those who have had gender-changing surgery.

Some bring their wives with them to the convention.

Esprit begins with an icebreaker cocktail hour this evening and caps off with a ballroom dance on Saturday.

“From the carloads of dressed-to-the-nines ladies who descend on the city’s finest French restaurant, to the tarts who roar into a local pool hall to compete in the annual Esprit pool tournament, Esprit has woven itself into the fabric of Port Angeles,” according to the conference’s Web site,

Esprit started when Janice Van Cleve organized the “90 in 90” conference to bring together the 90 members of Seattle’s Emerald City transgender organization in 1990.

Port Angeles was chosen to host the first conference that year because of the area’s beauty and the hospitality of local officials and businesses, according to Esprit’s organizers.

It was also chosen because transgender issues were not as accepted then as now, and Port Angeles was deemed a safe place to gather, organizers said.

Since then, Port Angeles has embraced the conference, the attendees – and their tourism dollars, said Kevin Thompson, president of the Port Angeles Downtown Association.

Thompson said the yearly conference is a major boon for businesses, especially those that cater to female fashion needs.

Thompson expects a spike in business at his downtown store, Family Shoe.

He recalls being a bit wary of Esprit at first, but then he and some other business owners met with participants at the Red Lion.

“I went down with some merchants, and we had drinks, chatted with them, and one hour turned into two hours, and turned into three hours, and we had a ball,” Thompson said.

“We were learning. It was a great learning experience.”

Esprit organizers have also scheduled several panel discussions at Peninsula College on Tuesday and Wednesday for students and the public.

The public is also invited to other events, such as a Friday night talent show at the Naval Elks Lodge at 131 E. First Street, and Saturday’s dance in the Red Lion’s second-floor ballroom.

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