Editor’s note: In the coming weeks, we’re digging through our archives. Outlife757 Magazine is seven years old this year, and in that time we have we have built an amazing collection of stories from the people that make up our diverse, thriving Hampton Roads queer community. Here’s a profile of Tarena Williams, founder of the Southeastern Transgender Resource Center in Norfolk from January 2022.
This past January, the Southeastern Transgender Resource Center of Norfolk officially opened Hampton Roads’ only transgender shelter. Named the Lamia House after Lamia Beard, a local transgender woman of color who was murdered in 2015, the house can accommodate 12 transgender people in need.
It has long been a goal of Center founder Tarena Williams.
“Now we finally we have a place that people can go that’s safe, clean, and has all the necessary amenities they need to live comfortably,” she said.
Williams knows first-hand the often-dangerous challenges trans people face. In 2017 she was brutally attacked by a man whom she had met online and narrowly avoided death.
“I lived in a hotel for about a month,” she said. “I met this guy online, and he forced his way into my room in the middle of the night. He sexually assaulted me, shot me, and left me for dead.”
She was shot inches from her heart and still suffers from the impacts of the shooting. The man was arrested a few days later and is currently serving his sentence.
She freely acknowledges that at the time she was a sex worker, and she knows the hazards involved in that work.
“I’ve walked the streets all night long,” she said, “so by telling my story, letting those others in the industry know I’ve been there, I’ve done that. Now let me hear your story.”
“This is why it’s so important to provide a more permanent shelter for trans people so they can feel safe, go find a job, and build a life off the street.”
Located in a storefront on North Colley Avenue, the Southeastern Transgender Resource Center was founded by Williams in 2020 with the help of a grant through the Racial Immigration Family Foundation.
It is a non-profit community outreach organization dedicated to empowering the local transgender community. Free services provided by the Center include connecting the community with housing, jobs, school supplies, and even masks during the pandemic.
It has been a vital lifeline for the trans community during the pandemic when many were unemployed or not eligible for unemployment benefits.
It’s also simply a place where the community can gather for social activities and support.
But in the end, the trans community’s most vital need is safe housing.
“Most people who come in here are looking for a home,” Tarena said. “And just making sure that everybody is under a roof is so important for them to be able to move their lives forward.”