Tatyana Woodard joins the Philadelphia Commission for Women

Tatyana Woodard stands next to Rue Landau. They smile toward a focal point off camera and together hold a blue folder that notes it is from the mayor's office.
Tatyana Woodard is recognized by Councilmember Rue Landau during a ceremony that honors her participation on the Philadelphia Commission for Women.

“Tatyana Woodard exemplifies leadership in every sense of the word,” said Councilmember Rue Landau, who recently nominated Woodard to participate in Philadelphia Commission for Women.

“The importance of representation of a Black, trans woman on this commission cannot be understated,” Landau continued. “Her voice will be instrumental in moving our city forward.”

Woodard joins a team dedicated to improving the lives of Philadelphia’s women and girls. She was initially nervous about accepting the position because she knows some cis women aren’t receptive to efforts to include trans women in conversations about womens’ needs and experiences.

“My hope is to bring a voice for transgender women to the commission — but also it is my hope that in doing so, we begin to bridge the gap between transgender and cisgender women,” Woodard said.

Landau described Woodard’s service to the city as “pivotal,” especially for unhoused LGBTQ+ youth — most significantly, for trans youth — across Philadelphia.

Woodard is currently the community engagement manager at the Mazzoni Center and the executive director of Ark of Safety, a shelter that houses LGBTQ+ people in North Philadelphia. The shelter — which has 12 beds — offers emergency housing for eight people with a cohort of four additional trans people receiving more specialized services as part of a permanent housing program.

One in five trans people have reportedly experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, and one in ten have been evicted from their homes due to gender discrimination. Trans people disproportionately face housing discrimination and increased risks and rejection when seeking short-term and emergency housing due to gender-segregation in shelters and unwelcoming attitudes to trans people.

“This has been radical. It has invoked change,” Woodard said about the impact Ark of Safety has had on Philadelphia.

Woodard, who became fully independent as a young teenager, was homeless for many years and participated in survival sex work to earn enough money for hotel stays.

“It changed how I navigate the world,” she said about those experiences which have helped to support and understand other people enduring their own struggles. She now aims to empower other queer and trans people who experience housing instability and economic insecurity.

Creating economic opportunities is essential for all women, said Woodard, but she noted it is especially important for trans women and can be life-changing for trans women of color — who often lack access to the resources they need to be well and maintain a higher quality of life.

The commission, which has five key focuses — social justice, civic engagement, health and wellness, economic opportunity and gender equity — is just beginning to meet for the year. Their budget was approved July 1. So far, Woodard said the commission is in early stages of exploring how to make a difference for women and girls, and the group has started to discuss the issue of equal pay.

“I’m just excited about supporting the commissioners and their interests and am looking forward to seeing what Tatyana will share with the group of commissioners,” said Keiwana McKinney Forde, director of women engagement for the city. She was recently appointed to the position by Mayor Cherelle Parker.

One of Woodard’s goals is to ensure that trans women benefit from the same programs and initiatives cis women are offered — including skills training, business networks, mentorships and other job-related resources. Approximately 45% of trans people have reportedly experienced workplace discrimination, making job readiness and job security a top concern for Woodard.

“I think [participating in the commission] and finally having a seat at the table and connections to powerful women who can help us move this needle forward to find opportunities that will enrich the trans community,” she said. “I think that says something about where we’re going as a city.”

“And it also comes with the ability to make change in the city for people like me of the next generation [so] that maybe they won’t ensure some of the things I had to endure,” she emphasized.

Woodard said there’s a problematic stereotype projected onto Black women that depicts them as strong and resilient before or instead of acknowledging other aspects of their identities or their needs. But even Woodard, who is a leader working on behalf of her community, shares in the difficulties of other marginalized people and still has challenges finding resources for herself.

“It isn’t easy,” she said about feeling invisible, alone and burdened. “Most days are hard even though we’ve come a long way.”

“I have some privilege, but I’m still affected by the things other trans people are affected by,” she explained.

Woodard, who got interested in organized advocacy work because she felt she wasn’t being heard or respected, took action despite struggling with her own fear after she realized little was being done about murders and violence against Black, trans women.

“It was probably the most liberating thing I have ever done,” she said, noting that she wants others to feel just as empowered to self-advocate.

She is inspired by the many pioneering LGBTQ+ women and women of color who laid the groundwork for some of the efforts she’s been able to champion today.

“I will continue to try to make effective change and lift up the voices of those who aren’t in the room or can’t speak for themselves,” Woodard said about her leadership in various roles across the city.

She is continually impressed by the desire of people in Philadelphia to come together to participate in mutual aid, highlighting the longstanding history of LGBTQ+ and Black communities developing underground networks to help their neighbors and loved ones access food, funds, and other fundamentals they need.

“But I would like some of those things to come up to the surface now,” she said, explaining that the city should be doing more to provide for its most marginalized people.

One resource she wants more of for herself and for others is access to joy — noting that sometimes tangible joy can be difficult to even fathom when so much needs to be done before the most marginalized LGBTQ+ people can truly thrive.

For now, she appreciates the little moments to take a breath, enjoy a good show, and celebrate small wins for the community.

“I find joy in hope,” she said. “I find joy in the hope for change.”

Update: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Tatyana Woodard was the first trans woman to join the Philadelphia Commission for Women.

This content is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Lead support for Every Voice, Every Vote in 2024 and 2025 is provided by the William Penn Foundation with additional funding from The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, Comcast NBC Universal, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Henry L. Kimelman Family Foundation, Judy and Peter Leone, Arctos Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, 25th Century Foundation, and Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation. To learn more about the project and view a full list of supporters, visit www.everyvoice-everyvote.org. Editorial content is created independently of the project’s donors.
Newsletter Sign-up