Spelman College Professor Tiana Tukes is a Pioneer of Change

Tiana Tukes (above), the first-ever Black trans woman to be a lecturer in entrepreneurial management within the economics department at Spelman College, is no stranger to pioneering change.  Photo by Kerri Phox/The Atlanta Voice

by Isaiah Singleton – Tiana Tukes, the first ever Black trans woman to be a lecturer in entrepreneurial management within the economics department at Spelman College, is no stranger to pioneering change.

Before her current role, she served as co-chief executive officer at LGBT+ VC, a global nonprofit created with the goal of advocating for and supporting LGBTQ investors. Tukes was also co-founded the organization in late 2022.

Before founding LGBT+ VC, Tukes held positions in investment, operations, and partnerships at various firms, including Silicon Valley Bank, Plume Clinic, Sequoia Capital, Accenture, and Spotify.

Tiana Tukes (above), the first-ever Black trans woman to be a lecturer in entrepreneurial management within the economics department at Spelman College, is no stranger to pioneering change.  Photo by Kerri Phox/The Atlanta Voice
Tukes has a major history in the AUC that includes her Great Grand Uncle Bishop Cornelius Henderson, who’s name graces the student center at Clark Atlanta University. Henderson was a member of the United Methodist Church and passed away in 2000.

“It’s really fulfilling, I love being back,” she said. “I love being on campus, working with students, and getting the opportunity to talk to the next generation of student leaders, but also to see entrepreneurs crafting their gifts.”

Tukes said it wasn’t her ambition to be the first Black Trans woman to teach at Spelman College, she just wanted to get back to the AUC.

“I went to Morehouse [College] and really enjoyed my time there and learned a great deal from my professors. They all poured into me in different ways, but what really means the most to me at this point in my life is finding ways to give back,” Tukes said.

Late last year, Tukes was introduced to the Chair of the Economics Department, Dr. Marionette Holmes, and was asked to first advise her on the development of a curriculum  for the entrepreneurship & innovation minor program and later joined the faculty.”

“I jumped at the opportunity,” Tukes said.

Tukes also said she always knew she wanted to teach at some point, but she had no clue it would be this soon. However, when it comes to teaching, Tukes said there’s nothing more noble or more important than the role of educators to touch young minds and share what you know with them.

“I come from a family of educators, and I know how much education has meant to my family, but also to my friends and my community,” she said.

Tukes said her faith is what motivates her to continue to shine a light on the LGBTQ+ community.

“What most people don’t think about is that a good number of most LGBTQ+ people live in the south. As a queer person growing up in the South, I was raised Christian and my faith is still something that’s very important to me,” she said.

Tukes refers to the Matthew 5:14-16 scripture which talks about being a light on a hill and she said sharing her life and being an example for others to see. Tukes believes that verse is an example of how God loves her for who she is.

“God loves me and there’s nothing anyone can do about it,” she said. “It’s really empowering, and I think a lot about that and that’s what motivates me because I know I’m loved unconditionally.”

Tiana Tukes: LGBTQ+ Trailblazer  

Growing up in the metro Atlanta area and attending Eastside High School, Tukes is also not a stranger to perseverance and trailblazing.

March 31 was International Transgender Visibility Day and Tukes makes it known how important this day is to her and other trans people. She said this day is crucial for trans people and non-trans people because they all need to see a representation of trans people in all facets of life.

“I think there’s certainly a great representation of trans people in entertainment, but very few representations of trans people in the business, technology, and academia fields,” she said.

Additionally, Tukes is determined to change the statistics and minds of those who don’t support individuals and businesses in the queer community.

Recent data showed public support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ Americans has fallen for the first time since 2015. Tukes believes you lead by example, which is the easiest thing someone can do. An example: How you treat people.

“Treat everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of who they are and what their background is,” she said. “I think my experience as a Trans woman has certainly shown me how important it is to be kind and compassionate to others.”

Representation Matters

Tukes said she accepted the teaching position at Spelman College, because she wants to set an example for trans students particularly at Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, and Morris Brown College.

“Representation matters, but also character matters and what I hope people see from my work and hopefully the work of other trans educators is that we have a heart and mind just as anyone else,” she said.

As far as goals for 2024, Tukes said she wants to find more ways to drive and help the next generation of student entrepreneurs know they have everything they need. As far as advice to Black trans men and women and other members of the LGBTQ+ community, Tukes wants them to know they are already good enough.

“People want to diminish and dismiss who you are and try to deny you, but I think more so than anything, your willingness to be courageous, authentic, and to express yourself beyond limitations placed on you, is the first sign you’re already special and supernatural,” she said. “You’re sacred and you matter.”

Tukes also said she so often meets trans people who have energy that feels defeated and she wants her queer and trans youth to know they are already winners.

Additionally, Tukes said there was a time where she was afraid to fully show up as herself, but she overcame the feeling by “saying prayers and meditating”.

“It took me a long time to accept myself,” she said. “Like so many other people in our community, I thought I could pray it away, but then through divine intervention, I realized I’m okay and I’m grateful I had that breakthrough.”

She also said she knows now God loves her for who she is and that was important to Tukes very early in life. Tukes said she knows regardless of what people might think about her, she is loved.

At the end of the day, Tukes said she wants her students to know she cares about them immensely.

Jordyn Hudson, a junior at Spelman College, said she loves Tukes and enjoys the Black entrepreneurship mindset course. The insight Hudson mentions includes learning different aspects of how to build revenue and how to generate income when it comes to building their own companies and learning more about venture capital.

“As an entrepreneur myself and a filmmaker, it’s been really inspirational to be able to get insight through this course,” Hudson said. “I’ve really enjoyed my time this semester through studying with professor Tukes and learning all I can and soaking the information up.”

Hudson owns a business called “Shape the Culture”, which is a social impact company that’s dedicated to showcasing all the work youth of color are doing within their own individual communities.

Additionally, Quenisha Moss, also a junior at Spelman College, said she believes professor Tukes is a great professor because in addition to what they learned on paper, they also learn about themselves and how to be confident when walking into a room knowing they deserve to be there.

“Professor Tukes is a very direct professor, so everything is straightforward, and I really appreciate that because we all need somebody to be straightforward,” Moss said.

Teachers matter, according to Tukes, who remembered her own experiences at Morehouse College, where she had “phenomenal professors” like Dr. Patricia Pogal and Dr. Dolores Stevens, who taught her how to show up in the world and be confident in whatever she does.

“It mattered to me most that they cared enough about me to be at their best because I do think those women and those doctorate professors were at their best when they taught us and I bring that excellence to my work,” she said.

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Spelman College prof. Tiana Tukes is a pioneer of change 

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