Content Warning: Tatiana’s story touches on incidents of violence against the transgender community.
After seeing video footage of a student mob attacking a transgender girl at a Florida middle school, Tatiana Williams was instantly brought back to her childhood. Williams grew up in a Miami neighborhood known for crime, poverty, and inequality. As a young woman, she faced personal bullying and witnessed the murder of a close friend who was killed in a targeted, transphobic act of violence. Since then, several of her friends have died from transphobic violence and complications from HIV/AIDS. “It’s by the grace of God I’m still here,” says Williams, who found inspiration and courage to transform her community’s tragedy into purpose and co-founded the award-winning, South Florida-based Transinclusive Group which provides a range of services including a weekly support group, HIV prevention, and testing, substance abuse treatment, transitional housing, and more.
For Williams, the link between transgender people and HIV is rooted in layers of stigma. Systemic racism, sexism, and transphobia make people all the more vulnerable to contracting HIV. “HIV is not a standalone issue – it’s often the symptom of homelessness, unemployment, poverty, or a lack of basic medical education and access,” says Williams. “I’ve witnessed many of my transgender sisters die from HIV/AIDS because they either couldn’t afford treatment or didn’t even know about the virus, testing, and treatment process.”
Williams’ work with the Transinclusive Group allows her to interact directly with and provide support to community members most affected by HIV. It’s not hard to see what life might have been like for many of her late friends, who would’ve had better access to care and treatment in 2021. “We have a long way to go, yes, but the fact that you can live with HIV in this country now, the fact that it’s not an automatic death sentence, is a medical miracle. We just need more people to know about HIV prevention and care so we can do our part here on the ground to end this epidemic.”
When she was going through the transition process herself, Williams experienced firsthand the gap in care that results in many LGBTQ+ lives lost and saw the urgent need for gender-affirming care and community support. “When you don’t readily have doctors prescribing hormone replacement therapy, surgeons willing to do gender-affirming surgeries, and clinics providing HIV education and testing, then people who are desperate for help will look towards the black market for illegal medical support. This is an unfortunate reality and a completely preventable issue that leads to people dying.” Creating a welcoming and accessible space for compassionate care became Williams’ mission.
Under Williams’ leadership, the Transinclusive Group was awarded the 2020 Human Rights Campaign Equality Award for exceptional service and earned a coveted grant from Gilead Sciences’ COMPASS Initiative, a program focused on ending the HIV epidemic in the South. “We know that Black trans women are disproportionately impacted in regards to HIV. And pouring into that leadership is why I’m so thankful for COMPASS because they have done just that for my organization.”
Here at GLAAD, we’re grateful for the work our partners do every day and are always keen to pass the mic to community leaders like Tatiana, which is why we invited her to take over our Instagram feed for a day. A few screenshots of Tatiana’s takeover are below.
40 years into the HIV epidemic, we still don’t have a cure for the disease which now disproportionately impacts Black transgender people. But, Williams notes, meeting people one-on-one to provide essential care and help change the narrative will push our society towards a better place as a cure is developed. “We still see the stigma that leads to violence and discrimination today, but the Transinclusive Group will do everything in its power to make a change and push back against the stigma.”