By: Jenna Milliner-Waddell
The breakout star of “Pose” is an outspoken advocate for transgender rights in front of the camera and behind the scenes, taking an untraditional path to train a community of tech workers.
Angelica Ross is determined. You can see her resolve in the groundbreaking FX series Pose, in which Ross plays Candy, an outspoken transgender woman commanding respect in the 1980s-inspired New York ballroom scene. The grittiness and streetsmarts required to make it in this cutthroat fictional world aligns with Ross’s real-life survival as a Black transgender woman.
The Wisconsin native brings the same strength to the cisgender, white male-dominated tech industry as the founder and CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises, an incubator that offers tech training to underserved LGBTQ communities “with a focus on economically empowering” transgender men and women.
“Technology seems to be this interesting generic, general sort of fertilizer for growth in the sense that no matter who you are, what type of plant or flower you are, technology can help you grow into whatever it is you’re meant to be,” she told Motherboard in an interview.
That growth can be stagnant when it comes to fostering inclusive environments in tech. In the 2018 Atlassian State of Diversity and Inclusion in U.S. Tech report, a survey of 1,500 tech workers across the country and 400 in Silicon Valley, 80 percent of respondents agreed that diversity and inclusion is important. But less than 30 percent of underrepresented groups had representation, retention, and a sense of belonging at their tech companies.
Perhaps even more startling was that more than 40 percent of companies believe their inclusion of people from underrepresented groups needed no improvement.
Ross’s journey into tech is a testament to her belief that “our greatest resource is ourselves.” When she was 17, she enlisted in the Navy hoping to “toughen up” and cope with her gender identity and feeling like a disappointment to her mother. Serving under the former Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, Ross’s naval career didn’t last long. Following an “uncharacterized” discharge from the Navy, Ross began her transition.
“Technology was the key to my freedom”
Many of her jobs were short-lived after employers found out that she was born a male, she told us. Eventually, she used her body as a means for survival, and became a model for an adult website. The owner took notice of her tech skills, and she found herself working on the backend, editing photos and refreshing the website.
“Technology was the key to my freedom,” Ross said. “Technology took me from being exploited on someone’s website to building my own websites and to building websites for other people and getting paid to do so.”
This story is in partnership with Motherboard. Click here to read the full article.