2020 was a landmark year for everyone, including Angelica Ross. For the first time ever, TransTech Summit went entirely virtual, making it more accessible than ever. You probably know Ross as the delectable Candy from POSE or Donna Chambers in American Horror Story: 1984. However, her most enduring work to date is TransTech Social Enterprises, an incubator where transgender people are equipped and empowered to develop skills and share them within marginalized LGBTQ+ communities. The yearly Summit amplifies that mission by helping people to learn new skills, grow their professional networks, and even get face time with potential employers.
It’s equity in action and a game-changer for people who are typically an afterthought to those who preach inclusion but rarely follow through on their words. Ross first thought of TransTech while working for a non-profit organization where she was hired to develop employment programs for trans and non-binary people. After realizing not only that she was being tokenized as an employee, but that her work was being stifled, she decided to take a risk.
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“I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. I didn’t have the social worker accolades to go along with what they wanted for the position. So when I was getting results and recommending certain things, they were rejecting everything,” she said. “They told me that I had to create workshops that were in-person cohorts and we had a focus on getting them safety and sanitation licenses so that they can work in food service or in entry-level jobs. I wanted to start teaching tech skills and they told me it was above the heads of the people that we were serving, and I disagreed.”
Soon enough, Ross took matters into her own hands, enlisting the help of friends like Laverne Cox for Skype sessions with program participants. All of the sudden, her employers were on-board with the tech focus.
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“I started little by little getting them to let me do certain things but ultimately I had to quit the organization to start TransTech. I started it because I recognized that trans people were dealing with a lot of challenges. If you want them to complete a consecutive program, for those who are the most marginalized, they’re going to miss a few days. It’s just what happens for ones that come from the street and ones who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. It’s just not always easy.”
Through TransTech, Ross and her team affirm attendees by communicating that their growth and development are on their own timelines and consequently, that challenges and setbacks aren’t failures. “Sometimes we have to take breaks and take care of ourselves in different ways,” she added. “Other people may not understand that but we understand that. We just want folks to know that we’re here whenever you’re ready to pick up where you left off.”
Now in its sixth year, TransTech Summit workshops span a variety of industries and topics. For instance, the 2020 schedule included sessions on freelancing, journalism, compensation negotiation, acting and filmmaking, business funding, and so much more. Ahead, Ross shares more about how entrepreneurs and creators can better affirm trans people through their content, how companies can up their inclusion, and more.
On Evolving With the Trans Community
“One thing that has become clear is that the trans community is not a monolith. We’re talking about trans youth. We’re talking about trans seniors. We’re talking about trans immigrants. We’re talking about trans folks with an incarceration history. We’re talking about trans folks who are non-binary; trans people who are pre- or post-op, who don’t have their IDs changed yet. We need to constantly be a resource for folks at whatever stage they are in.
The full fruition of TransTech’s mission is transition at the center of technology. What I mean by that is, for example, divorcees who spend their whole lives being a homemaker and now they’re envisioning a whole new life for themselves and maybe want to start their own business. I want TransTech to be the model for what’s possible when someone goes through a big life transition.”
How Companies Can Support Trans People
“Watch Disclosure on Netflix. Understand the history; that media has been both harmful and inaccurate. In order to create more accurate and affirming media, we have to be able to not only hire trans and queer people but help them succeed. Say, for instance, someone offers a trans person an opportunity. What some folks don’t know is what you have to do to even show up to that opportunity. And then they’ll judge without having a conversation to understand what the challenges are.
Some trans folks need to find a job where they have the health insurance and policies that will pay for the surgeries and the things they need to feel affirmed in their identity. And you have folks who have gone through all that but they don’t have the confidence because they’re coming through a job market that has rejected them.”
How Creators Can Support Trans People
“What I love to see is when their language and narrative are inclusive and not just singling out trans people. It’s about modeling your work around human decency. Show me you include trans and non-binary people by using pronouns when applicable. For example, it was one of the smallest but biggest signs of support when [the feminine hygiene brand] Always took the female symbol off the packaging…now it’s ‘people with periods’ or ‘people with vaginas.'”
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