Leaders of new trans-led LGBTQ center in Atlanta reflect on first six months

Destination Tomorrow South officially opened in May.
Sean Ebony Coleman (middle) holds a sign during a march for Transgender Day of Remembrance. He's the founder of Atlanta's new LGBTQ+ center Destination Tomorrow South. The center opened last May. (Photo courtesy of Destination Tomorrow)

Credit: Destination Tomorrow

Credit: Destination Tomorrow

Sean Ebony Coleman (middle) holds a sign during a march for Transgender Day of Remembrance. He's the founder of Atlanta's new LGBTQ+ center Destination Tomorrow South. The center opened last May. (Photo courtesy of Destination Tomorrow)

When Sean Ebony Coleman started Destination Tomorrow, an LGBTQ+ center located in the Bronx, New York, in 2009, he wanted to see more representation of Black and brown trans leadership. He also grew weary of not seeing ample support for people living with HIV. Coleman, 54, saw his mom and friends die from the virus in the 1980s and ‘90s.

“In the South Bronx of New York is where we originally started, and there weren’t a lot of not-for-profit organizations that looked like me or spoke like me that provided services (for people like me),” Coleman said. “I thought it was imperative to have that right. I know it would’ve helped a lot with me coming up.”

Over a decade later, Atlanta was one of the first places Coleman thought about when wanting to expand his center. Georgia is also personal for him because he fondly remembers spending summers as a child with his grandma, who’s from McRae-Helena in Telfair County. His ballroom house, House of Ebony, has an Atlanta chapter. Destination Tomorrow South, located at 1419 Mayson St. NE, opened its doors on May 2.

Atlanta is among the top 20 metropolitan areas with the largest LGBTQ+ population, according to a March 2021 report from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law — representing about 5% of the city’s population.

“When you think of LGBTQ services, you think of larger urban spaces, you think of a New York or LA or Miami even, but we forget about our southern brothers, sisters and non-binary non-conforming folks, and I wanted to make sure that they also had access to services and programs that would be vital to them,” said Coleman, who lives in New York City but frequently travels to Atlanta.

The center mainly aims to provide holistic, wraparound services for those in need of resources. Since last spring, Destination Tomorrow South has served about 100 people.

“You may come in cause you want access to hormone replacement therapy, but during our intake we may also identify that you haven’t seen a doctor in a year and a half, or you’ve never gotten a flu shot,” Coleman said. “We actually want to kind of treat the whole person regardless of what it is that you needed. And that seemed like a rarity in Atlanta because it was like folks were working in silos with different segments of the community.”

Coleman said Destination Tomorrow South has four staff members, almost all of whom are trans. However, he mentioned the center is open to helping anyone who’s in need, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, but asks that people are respectful of everyone in the space.

Octavia Y. Lewis serves as the center’s chief advocacy and policy officer. She mainly works on building the center’s brand in Atlanta and working with other brand officers who’ve supported the area’s LGBTQ community.

She said Destination Tomorrow South’s trans leadership is what makes it different from other LGBTQ+ centers and also what makes the area’s transgender community comfortable with using the center’s resources. Lewis, Coleman and Alex Santiago, Destination Tomorrow’s chief operating officer, are transgender.

Octavia Y. Lewis is the chief advocacy and policy director for Destination Tomorrow South, Atlanta's new trans-led LGBTQ+ center.

Credit: Octavia Lewis

icon to expand image

Credit: Octavia Lewis

“I think it’s important for our community to see ourselves in positions of authority and positions that can enact change because we don’t often get a chance to see that,” said Lewis, 41. “Most of the time when we are talked about, we are pathologized, and we are looked at as statistics. And I think for us in able to hold those positions and show people that yes, we can run these organizations, yes we can have run these business, yes, we can take care of our community.”

Lewis said finding housing for queer people in the area is among the pressing issues she’s seen since starting her position in July. She said the center has assisted young trans women in foster care find housing by collaborating with Georgia-based nonprofits like A Vision 4 Hope and NAESM (National AIDS Education and Services for Minorities).

Securing housing is an issue that Lewis knows first-hand. Born and raised in Ocilla, a rural town in south Georgia, Spencer said she remembers her high school having a Black homecoming queen and a white homecoming queen when she graduated in 1999.

“It’s even hard for Black people in the South, so when you layer all those multi-identities, it really becomes an issue for that individual,” Lewis said. “I think that’s where I was where I found myself doing survival sex work to provide. At one point in time, I was homeless and I had to make a life or death decision. I didn’t want to live like that because that’s not a quality of life I’d wish on my worst enemy.”

Lewis moved to New York in 2011 after being diagnosed with HIV. She said there were more resources and programs centered on people living with HIV than there were in Georgia.

“I’m grateful that I was able to do that, but I don’t think it’s fair to those living in the South, particularly in Georgia, that they have to leave everything that they know and everything that they have worked for in order to be treated as a human being and treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve,” Lewis said.

Being able to provide the help she didn’t receive in Georgia is another reason why she’s grateful for the center. So far, Destination Tomorrow South has partnered with Fulton County Board of Health, the CDC, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and more to offer resources.

For Transgender Day of Remembrance in November, the center partnered with the mayor’s office to host a silent vigil at city hall.

“We know that it’s going to take all of us to move our community to a model of sustainability,” Lewis said.

Destination Tomorrow South is Atlanta's new trans-led LGBTQ+ center. It opened on May 2. (Photo courtesy of Destination Tomorrow)

Credit: Destination Tomorrow

icon to expand image

Credit: Destination Tomorrow

However, Lewis said the center is still looking for more ways to secure funding, which she cited as a challenge.

“When you think about Atlanta, yes, if you’re in parts of Fulton County, parts of DeKalb, then, yes, it is purple, but if you get outside of that, it is still very red... I really don’t think that they have navigated towards empathy because a lot of them can’t put themselves in our shoes because they don’t understand us, or they have not been taught to respect us,” she said.

But the city is working with grant writers and city officials for more funding, which will mainly be allocated for replicating the programming at the center’s New York City location. Some of those programs include resources for job readiness, temporary housing and a G.E.D program

“We want our people, our community to have that sustainability and that looks like giving them the tools and allowing them to use those tools to garner their own model that works for them. That’s what I love about destination.”

Destination Tomorrow South is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Those seeking services from the center can call 678-732-3767 or visit its website destinationtomorrow.org.