'Pose' star helps empower trans people in tech

Angelica Ross is an actress and trans activist who has seen the power of tech skills to help marginalized people find good work. She founded TransTech Social Enterprises to help empower trans people with technical and digital skills.

"Technology is the ultimate catalyst" says Angelica Ross.

Actress/activist Angelica Ross (Submitted by Angelica Ross)

You may know Angelica Ross from the groundbreaking FX series Pose. She plays Candy, an outspoken trans woman making her way in the 1980s New York ballroom scene. However, Ross is not just amplifying trans voices on screen. Off screen, she is the founder and CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises, a program that helps empower trans people with technical and digital skills.

Ross spoke to Spark host Nora Young about the importance of elevating trans voices and fostering inclusive environments in tech.

Why did you decide to start TransTech in 2014?

The story of TransTech comes out of a very organic space because I was just trying to figure it out. I, too, was marginalized into the streets and into the adult industry. There is a high level of coercion that says, 'What else are you going to do? This is your only option. You're not going to be able to get a job that's going to give you health benefits, or you might get fired once they find out you're trans'.
(The Gender Spectrum Collection)

And what I did was: The person who owned the website [that I posed for] asked me to help them with designing the site, like, 'Oh, I see you're kind of sharp with the computer. I want to save some money and not pay my webmaster. How about you upload these photos'? And then I realized that I don't want to be in the adult industry, but I am very tech savvy. So I started designing websites for other companies, and taught myself HTML and CSS and learned content management systems like WordPress and Drupal and Juma, and did photo retouching and created flyers for people like Cedric the Entertainer and Ludacris the rapper.

Meanwhile none of these people knew I was trans because I was working freelance and remotely. So that's what then led me to thinking that this could work for other trans people who are not yet ready to go into a brick and mortar or salary position because they haven't yet reached their transition goals, or they just want to be their own bosses. So for me, TransTech came out of me figuring it out for myself, but then me having my spiritual foundation that tells me that you don't do this for just yourself, that once you figure it out you then turn around and help someone else.

Tell me more about TransTech. What types of programming does it offer to help empower and support trans people?

We started out as an apprenticeship program. Then we began to evolve. We have a e-course library that we're building. We have our TransTech summits now that we throw at the Groupon headquarters in Chicago, where trans and gender non-conforming people actually facilitate tech workshops; people who are employed already at tech companies, or people who are just authorities in that space teaching their own. I've helped several members get not only brick and mortar jobs but we also have organizations like the National LGBTQ Task Force that hired one of our TransTech members to send out all of their e-blasts.

We're showing organizations, especially LGBT organizations, how they can put their money where their mouth is and actually hire people from the community to be a part of their mission.  
(The Gender Spectrum Collection)

Why do you think that tech skills in particular can be so beneficial to marginalized communities, specifically in this case, the LGBTQ community?

I feel that technology is the ultimate catalyst, that it is similar to trans people; somewhat of a shapeshifter, somewhat of a create-your-own kind. There are so many things that you can do with technology. People create apps for anything. There is an app for that! There's an app for this! Think about folks who come from the most marginalized places of our society. They have ideas, too.

In addition to your work with TransTech, you're also an actress. For those who haven't seen you on Pose, how would you describe your character, Candy?

Candy is really the girls that we are serving today. Candy is one of those girls who knows that she's talented but she just hasn't found the right stage yet, or the right opportunity yet. And that's why there's such a fever pitch with her. She doesn't take no for an answer. Her vibrancy for going after her goals is unmatched. She often inspires me in my own life. Whenever I want to be more brave, whenever I want to be more blunt, whenever I want to just cut through the BS and just say what needs to be said, sometimes I slip into Candy's voice and I say it.

Ultimately, what kind of a difference do you hope TransTech will make?

My number one goal with TransTech is to be the resource for folks who are trying to figure out what to do during a major transition in their life. So it's not just by being trans; it's folks that are coming out of the incarceration system, women who have been victims of patriarchy and misogyny. Just as we're asking other companies to create a space of inclusivity, TransTech's aim is to model what that looks like. If we respect black trans women, then black women are going to be respected in this space, then gay men are going to be respected in this space, then immigrants are going to be respected in this space. Because trans folks are also immigrants, trans folks are also black, trans folks are also all of these other things that we're fighting for.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Click the listen button above to hear the full conversation.


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