Watkins grew up in Hueytown and was ordained as a minister at First Baptist Church of Hueytown when he was 17. He used his earnings from a job at McDonald's to pay for flying lessons. He entered the U. S. Naval Academy after graduating from Hueytown High School with hopes of becoming a pilot. During his first year he contracted viral encephalitis and fell into a coma. He recovered and returned to Annapolis after a year of convalescence. He was elected president of his class, but, after being accused of homosexual behavior he was forced to resign and ordered to repay the service for the full cost of his education. After several appeals the monetary penalty was withdrawn in 2000.
Watkins wrote a memoir of his experiences entitled Living Out Loud. He completed his bachelor's degree in aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. He is a licensed multi-engine commercial pilot and took a consulting job in Miami. There he returned to the ministry in an AIDS-related program at Greater Bethel AME Church. After being asked to leave that congregation, he founded the Ministry of Reconciliation to expand his outreach to black gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning persons, persons living with AIDS and their family members. He also incorporated The Watkins Group (TWG) to provide consulting services and to publish outreach materials.
Watkins completed a master's degree in social work at the University of Alabama in 2009. Watkins is pursuing a doctorate in health communications at UAB and is the first recipient of an endowed scholarship named in honor of AIDS activist Billy Cox. Unwelcome at his home church, he has joined St Andrew's Episcopal Church and currently serves as junior warden.
- Watkins, Tommie Jr (2005) Living Out Loud. The Watkins Group. ISBN 0977434206
- Carlton, Bob (October 4, 2009) "Tommie Watkins Jr. continues the late Billy Cox's legacy as a Birmingham community AIDS activist." Birmingham News