The Westside Gazette

Transitioning to Advocacy: Tatiana Williams

Tatiana Williams

Transitioning to Advocacy: Tatiana Williams

By Dixie Ann Black

     Tatiana Williams is the Executive Director and co-founder of in Broward County. On a given day Ms. Williams can be found in her comfortably air-conditioned office negotiating new contracts, attending community events, informing and advocating for the rights of the oppressed. She is well dressed, self-assured and confident of who she is and the role that is a calling on her life. But it wasn’t always so.

In the late 1980’s a seventeen-year-old who had been assigned as a male at birth (we will call him John) sat on the steps of his mother’s apartment in Liberty City and watched the flow of people go by. John continually refused to play football with the other boys. The thought of it made him cringe. But watching the majorettes twirl a baton fascinated him. John was extremely feminine and by his late teens he had transitioned from feminine accents to wearing female clothing.

  She had the fortune of having a single mother who accepted her just the way she was and a grandfather who protected her. She and her family were regulars at their local church and her sister was her best advocate. But this was not enough to keep her safe.

Her inexplicable yearnings pulled her into the company of older men who were committed to a LGBTQ lifestyle. From the revelation of this encounter, Tatiana was born. Her advisors sprung up from her new companions. She was encouraged to get HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy). Her mother did not object, but she did not assist with the cost. Tatiana, determined to fully become who she knew herself to be on the inside, sought out HRT on the Black Market. This opened the door to a fascinating, exciting, and frighteningly dangerous world.

     Now, instead of hanging out with other boys, Tatiana found herself in night clubs, developing physically as a female. She observed and soon developed her own relationships with males. There were many hurdles to the life she pursued, the biggest of which was money.

“I became a sex worker to pay for the therapy. I dropped out of school and was thrust into a new lifestyle. School was last in my interest.”

Meanwhile Tatiana’s mother, who worked two jobs became concerned about her lack of schooling and her trajectory for her future. Her concerns held little sway as she had no knowledge of what Tatiana wanted and need to know. The Transgender community in which she found herself consisted of older adults who taught her what they knew, how to survive in and out of the system, getting what they wanted and needed despite great cost.

Eventually Tatiana was arrested. But she found out that even an arrest could work in her favor in her counter-culture lifestyle. She spent years navigating the system, finding ways to get her needs met.

    Eventually Tatiana began to observe a chilling statistic. Her mentors, the older men and women who had advised her began to die of HIV AIDS. Tatiana recalls,

“I had no idea of the damage of HIV. I thought it was for bad people, dirty people.”

By this time the body enhancement from the HRT had paid off.

“I was living my best life.” She recalls. Her mother and sister had helped her get an apartment and a car. But here she was in her early 20’s and her friends were dying at an alarming rate. HIV AIDS was not the only threat. Her friends were also being murdered.

The murder of a close friend is seared into Tatiana’s consciousness,

“One of my best friends was murdered on 79th. Street and 5th avenue. I saw her running while someone was shooting her in the back. I froze from shock. Then I realized that I’d better run too.”

But that wasn’t all. Domestic violence became a theme in her life from several angles, partners with mental health concern and those on drugs which made them violent.

“I kept thinking, ‘I’ve got to get out of this somehow.’ But I didn’t know how.”

Eventually, Tatiana was able to get off the streets, moving to internet-based activities with more security. She entered LGBTQ pageants and won Ms. Black America and Ms. Black Universe. But still she continued to wonder,

“How do I get out. What do I do?”

    She eventually went back to school and received her GED. Then in 2014 she joined a Transgender support group, and the HIV and Community Advocate of today was born. The leaders of the support groups saw in Williams, a voice of experience. She passionately advocated for the community she had been raised in from the power of personal knowledge. She was bold, intelligent and had a natural gift for leadership.

Before she knew it, Williams was trained as a HIV Testing Counselor for the Pride Center. Two months later she was hired as a supervisor. In the next few years Williams realized that although there were many LGBTQ organizations, many did not include or impact the Transgender community.

Williams formed her own organization to address the gap in advocacy and service. In 2017 she applied for non-profit status and began transitioning from working for the Pride Center to directly addressing the underserved Transgender community.

When asked about her community’s reaction to her transition from male to female, Williams reflected,

“We grew up in the church. God was the higher power in our household. But when I attended church after transitioning, people would look but not ask. It turned me off. It didn’t stop my relationship with God, I just did it at home. My church is on TV. I tithe. TD Jakes is my pastor.

“I pray and having a praying mom. Listen, I’ve had my lung punctured and was in a coma for a week. God brought me through. I was shot and pushed out of a car while doing sex work. I’ve had guns pulled and had to run for my life. My God has been watching over me in all this.

“A part of my success is the heart of giving. It has nothing to do with what I do as a woman of trans experience. People judge us for a belief of who they think we should be and not the heart of who we are.”

As for the advocacy work she does, she explained,

“We now serve Transgender individuals using a trauma informed approach with harm reduction in a holistic way.”

She elaborated, “We help with anything that impacts the Trans community, from getting HRT to linking folks with HIV care, emergency housing, financial assistance or anything that improves their quality of life.”

Her organization does this through obtaining federal funding, corporate and pharmaceutical companies and local and national foundation. Over the past three years, her organization has helped over 200 individuals with hotel stays, paying for medicines, phone bills, getting adaptive equipment and more.

Williams calls her program “grassroots” with its staff of three, but her sites are set high. At heart she sees herself as an advocate.  Her organization’s vision” is to create community where all Transgender and LGBQ+ individuals can achieve their human potential equally and equitably through education, healthy lives and financial stability free of stigma and discrimination.”

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