A Dream Becomes Reality
Tiommi Jenae Luckett Hopes to Show the World How to Live Boldly & Authentically
by Connie Rose
Photography by Rhys Harper
Saturday evening in my house is usually spent on the phone or online listening to my favorite online personality, Pozitively Dee [A&U, September 2016], and this Saturday was no different. I am one of the many volunteers who help promote and share the show topics for many of the Blog Talk shows. So, I know who’s on first and what’s being discussed on second and when they will be on third. I love the shows that are about people and topics I have never heard about, as, before, my perspective of the world used to be very small, but, over time and with a great desire to expand my knowledge, I decided the only way to do that was get out there and try to meet or learn about as many people who lived completely different lives than myself to help open me up to learning about communities I may otherwise never have an opportunity to experience. Here is my experience with Tiommi Jenae Luckett that Saturday afternoon.
I call into the BlogTalk radio show and wait about a minute until I hear Dee saying, “Happy day everyone and today we have Tiommi Jenae Luckett on the show. Tiommi, go ahead and introduce yourself.” And then I heard her voice for the first time. I remember it being so soft, calm, composed, and over the next hour and a half I heard that voice coming from someone so filled with knowledge, pain, love, fire, regret, and hope and more than a bit of hard sass among a myriad of other emotions she experienced during her interview that Saturday evening. She was someone I knew instantly was here to change the world by being the change she wanted to see for others.
Dee’s show was the first time I had ever heard of Tiommi Luckett but it has not been the last time. Tiommi is very active in the transgender community, as well as the HIV community. During the show she talked about growing up in a community with a population of about 7,000 people in rural Arkansas and how difficult life was due to being bullied. She discussed how scary dating is for everyone in the trans community, not just those just beginning to live as their true selves but even for those who’ve been living openly for years because of the hidden hate that many harbor for the trans community. Today Tiommi is on the U.S. PLHIV Caucus Steering Committee, where she is Communications Coordinator/CAB, and she is a blogger for The Well Project’s “A Girl Like Me.”
Recently, I got the chance to hear her hopes and wishes, in her own words.
Connie Rose: What effect do you hope your work has had or will have on the world at large?
Tiommi J. Luckett: When I started this work, it was because I was asked to speak about my personal experiences with the healthcare system and the passage of the Affordable Care Act in Arkansas. In doing so, I simply shared what it was like before, what happened [during], and what it was like after the ACA. I had no idea that owning the truth about myself and the obstacles I’ve faced would empower others who have or are going through similar lived experiences to not be afraid to declare their truths. I owned my intersectional identities on that podium because I knew that I had no reason to be ashamed of who I was. I haven’t deviated from that formula today. Knowing that my work has empowered others to walk and stand firm in their truths and be the authors of their own narratives is the only thing I could hope for.
If you had one wish to change or fix one problem in the world which problem would you choose?
Giving it much thought, for several reasons I would say, homelessness. If a wish could fix one problem, that’s my final answer because homelessness touches all aspects of people’s lives: TLGBQ youth and young adults, military veterans, refugees, women, people of all races and backgrounds, PLHIV, substance abusers. I was sheltered from seeing so many people who are homeless before I began advocating. I have been from the East Coast to the West Coast and to see or step around people was the most unnerving experience I’ve had to date.
I’m black, transgender, a resident of Arkansas. I’ve been incarcerated in a male facility and gone through rehab also in a male facility with no doors on the bedrooms. I learned who transmitted the virus to me and he didn’t seem remorseful at all, but still I’ve managed to have support through all of it. As I watched how desensitized residents of these areas were to seeing people asleep on the sidewalk, I couldn’t help but wish I could do more.
In your words, please tell me why you choose to be a public voice/face for the TGLWHIV community instead of choosing to live your life but do it out of the spotlight so as not to “rock the water in your pond” so to speak?
I wasn’t aware that I had become a public voice/face in 2014, which is the year that I first spoke at PACHA and also my very first speaking engagement. The next year, articles were surfacing and people knew my name. People wanted to know more about me and I didn’t understand why. I didn’t feel special in any way. I had spoken always from my heart and spoke the truth.
As I learned of the different injustices that so many people were facing not only locally, but regionally and nationally as well, it became harder to not speak out. I’ve never been a hypocrite. I can’t simply live my life silently because that’s not living. It’s existing. I and every transgender individual living with or affected by HIV deserve the opportunity for a healthy life. I just wasn’t prepared for having a global influence and to be seen as a beacon of hope for so many members of my community. Living with HIV does not define me. Being a transgender woman doesn’t define me. Being black doesn’t define me. I am who I am. I’m a person who happens to have lived experiences other than your own and that’s fine.
What do you hope people think about when they think of you?
I hope they think of fiery speeches rooted in truth and facts delivered deliberately with the intent to educate and agitate people out of complacency. They think of compassion and passion as well as an ability to inspire others to live boldly and authentically.
Finishing up our conversation, I broached the subject of the recent bathroom debacle, several states’ anti-transgender legislation that has sought to restrict public restroom use based on birth certificate gender identification, especially as some of the mainstream media has sensationalized and created fear in people’s minds about what is a non-issue. I asked Tiommi if she thought the mainstream media’s tactic was a hindrance to the trans movement. She replied by asking a question I keep asking, “Does the general public think that transgender people are just now starting to use the public restroom, honestly?”
Luckett wants the general population to think about the fact that the media has ignored the countless trans people who have died while waiting for basic health care because until recently very few insurance companies have covered gender-specific-related procedures while a person is in their transition stage. So, for example, there are transwomen dying of breast cancer who can’t get a mammogram because on their identification card they are still listed as a male and they do not qualify for female-only procedures. Tiommi and many others are asking: Where is the justice or the truth in that?
Connie Rose acquired HIV at nineteen years of age from her husband because she didn’t ask for an HIV test before they married and if he did know he didn’t tell her. Forty-one, Connie Rose is a mother and grandmother living in Las Vegas, Nevada, changing the world one blog at a time. When she is not writing for multiple ticket venues, including the Vegastickets website, she is manages and writes for her own website, livingpos.com, an information and blogging site dedicated to the four H’s in the STD community. She also is an advocate in her local community and on social media. Follow Connie Rose on Twitter @Cricketlv.