LGBTQIA Pride Month lecturer Angelica Ross emphasized her most dazzling trait as she strutted on stage at Pierson Auditorium Wednesday night: her confidence.
Ross mouthed the lyrics to Beyoncé’s “XO” as it boomed through the speakers and granted graceful waves to her audience before commanding the mic. Once the applause settled, Ross began to narrate her life as a transgender woman, particularly her rise to CEO and founder of Trans Tech Social Enterprises.
The business, Ross’s passion project, teaches technology skills to empower and job train the transgender community. This idea came about when Ross noticed a lack of space for transgender people in career fields, and used technology to carve out this space for herself.
“Even when I moved to a gay-friendly neighborhood with rainbow flags everywhere, I didn’t see a single trans person employed down this whole gay-ass street,” Ross recalled. “No one checking me out at the shop down the street, or where I buy my lashes. We’re not employed outside of entertainment.”
Ross’s early post-transition years exemplified this stereotype and unfortunate reality. She recounted “doing backflips and flips for [a] dollar” in drag clubs and posing for adult websites. Yet a conversation with an employer gave her the determination to navigate a different, unpaved path.
“I said, ‘You know what, your website’s kind of raunchy,’” Ross stated. “Can we add a little gloss?”
Although the website’s creator refused, the idea blossomed into a portfolio Ross would spend 10 years creating. She taught herself HTML, eventually retouching photos, experimenting with graphic design and even creating backstage passes for rapper Ludacris.
“No one needed to know what I looked like or sounded like over the Internet. I could just do the job,” Ross said.
However, now thousands know what Ross looks and sounds like. She has since delivered keynote speeches, garnered an impressive social media following and a recurring role on TNT’s show Claws. She’s raised her voice against transphobia everywhere— from the first class section on planes to the Human Rights Campaign’s headquarters.
After quitting a job with an LGBTQIA organization in Chicago that she did not find trans-inclusive enough, Ross started Trans Tech Social Enterprises. She recalled hustling through several side jobs and her bank account flashing red. Somehow, this did not discourage her, and Ross held to her vision.
“I know my value so much that even if it’s ramen noodle time and the bank account is negative, those scoreboards can’t change that I’m a winner,” Ross professed.
Despite this success and winning attitude, Ross isn’t done yet. She wants to provide a ladder of opportunity for other transgender people. That’s why she took no salary in her company’s first two years of business, putting $100,000 back into the trans community.
Again, creating space for others emerged as Ross’s primary motivation. For community member Malikei Hetherington, this stood out as the night’s central takeaway.
“I think the lecture provided a lot of insight, [it] opened my mind and allowed me to address more of my privilege,” Hetherington said. “I’m a white man who is transgender, but I’m also passing, so I should help give space to people who aren’t passing, or who don’t have the privilege of being white.”
Ross ended the lecture by explaining that in every moment and situation, she asks herself why she’s there. She believes a deeper reasoning lies behind every interaction.
“I am here to be a solution in a situation, or be a voice in a situation,” Ross reflected.
For the wide and appreciative audience that gathered Wednesday night, that purpose rang clear all along.
Angelica Ross’s lecture was a part of Pride Month programming on behalf of Pride Alliance and LGBTQIA Programs & Services. To learn more about upcoming Pride Month events for the remainder of April, visit UMKC Pride Alliance on Facebook.