Before Angelica Ross was a well-known actress in the industry, she lived and worked in Hollywood, Florida. At this time, she was paying her bills as a model and escort after facing discrimination in other industries (including attempting to serve in the military and working in the restaurant business). She went from posing in front of the camera to learning the skills to be behind it. She learned to use photo software like a pro, as well as master graphic design and web development. An “early tech-savvy” she was able to become adept in all things tech, including teaching herself coding.
As she worked towards her dream of being an actress, she was also able to put her love and skills in technology to good use and start her own company, TransTech Social Enterprises, in 2014. Her hopes were to support trans people. community to learn the same computer skills and more that got her through tough times. The CEO will then create the TransTech Summit. Packed with speakers and workshops, the event gives attendees the tools to enjoy their current career, learn new skills to offer or create new opportunities, and help LGBTQIA people network with each other. others. This is an opportunity for full autonomy. This year’s four-day event, a free virtual event starting March 31 and ending Sunday April 2, has come a long way since its debut.
“We started our first summit at Groupon headquarters [in Chicago], and I believe it was in 2017 or 2018. We did two years and took off a few years, and then last year was our first virtual year. And then this year, it’s kind of like an explosion,” Ross told ESSENCE. “We just have a lot more speakers. I think we have over 60 speakers at the workshops. We have several days of programming, so it’s going to be much, much bigger, much, much broader conversation than before. It’s as if I was a proud mother to see her baby grow.
Workshops will cover everything from technology in Hollywood, wellness and health technology, racial justice, diversity representation, inclusion, media marketing, advertising, healing and more. Everything you can think of, from managing burnout to learning about editing in WordPress, to highlighting apps for change, like COMMUNITYx, the world’s first and leading social impact technologies, will be highlighted.
We spoke with the tech star and CEO about the inspiration for this important event, what attendees can expect to learn and hear throughout it, and what she thinks of it. the visibility of trans women and men today, as well as the work that needs to be done for the community.
ESSENCE: Where did the idea for the TransTech Summit come from?
Angelique Ross: Well, I was going to tech summits everywhere, not just tech summits, just conferences, from LGBTQ-focused conferences to tech-focused conferences. I just realized there was probably a lack of a trans-centric space, a space where we’re centered enough that everyone in our environment not only watches the violence, but feels like they’re also educated and informed so that we can truly be an asset to each other.
What did you think was important about technology specifically to equip trans women and men with these types of skills?
I was what they definitely call an early adopter of technology in general. I grew up being so tech savvy and assembling the computer at home. I loved being on the computer. But I knew that to begin with, I was part of a community that was, I would say, trafficked into sex work. People really don’t put the two together when policies are created that prevent trans people from being employed. Then they don’t understand that we are criminalized for choosing all the other options. And so, I had to create a safe space for people to both continue to use whatever assets they had in hand, but to put in a barrier of protection, damage reduction, which I felt was the computer.
So many people started learning how to build websites or they could build adult websites that could still provide them with the income they were looking for but would provide a safety barrier between them and their target audience and customers. So for me, that was part of my story, that I kind of found a way to choose something off the street, other than posting on someone else’s website and being taken advantage of by someone else. I took the power into my hands and decided when, where and how much. So that was really, to be honest, the real basis of it all. Much of my community doesn’t even understand, or hasn’t even been able to heal from the trauma of having to do sex work. So this is one of the workshops that we organize at the TransTech Summit. “TRANSformation: Sex Work and Healing.”
So it’s everything from soft skills to very hard skills, learning to code or learning how to use social media for digital advocacy. So it’s not just about coding, it’s about how the intersections of technology can help you and maybe give you access to opportunities. So many in our community have been faced with some sort of decision, “Do I do sex work or not? Because I can’t find a job. So we’re not only trying to provide resources for the people making those decisions and not shaming people for making those decisions, but we’re also providing alternative resources so they can build their careers in other directions.
What kind of topics are you going to cover in the workshops, besides healing and some of the more technical conversations?
We have everything from people pursuing their PhDs in the fields of technology and computing, to “Beauty Means Business”. This is the second year that we have organized this workshop with beauty professionals like Merrell Hollis, who has been a go-to makeup artist on the Wendy Williams show, but he’s also been my makeup artist for many years. Simone “Japan” Tisci, who is a celebrity makeup artist, but she’s also featured on Legendary. And my manager EJ, who manages a lot of top notch makeup artists like Yolonda Frederick, who is Ciara’s makeup artist and was my makeup artist for american horror story.
We’ve always talked about how trans people, especially trans women, a lot of them have been the masterminds of makeup and fashion, but haven’t been given the authority for it in the industry. . We talk about how to take those skills that they have and turn them into business, and mind their business. Because beauty is a billion dollar business, and we want our people involved. So, yes, literally everything from translating the hustle to translating your survival tactics into actual job skills. I will give an opening speech. We will conduct workshops on how to deal with databases and basic knowledge of database administration, learning Adobe Creative Cloud. I can’t be more proud of this summit because it has it all. There’s even someone teaching them how to make reels and TikToks. Because look, I’m sure I have to attend this class.
The TransTech Summit, I know, starts on March 31st on Transgender Awareness Day. What do you think of the visibility of your community at the moment and what work remains to be done?
To be honest, I think visibility has definitely made things better. But as my grandmother always said, “The world is getting wiser and meaner every day. So we just have to remain vigilant because the work is not finished. And I think that’s going to be an ongoing theme that I think my community really understands, but it’s like a relay race. And that’s why in the TransTech Summit and in our workshops, we have so many workshops that focus on healing. Because we understand that part of this work is healing. You can’t even do this job, broken. It’s just really, really hard because only energy will get you out of it.
And so you really owe it to yourself and your communities to heal. Because when you fit into the collective, you bring it all. You bring your pain and your joy. You bring your value and the things you are challenged with. So we understand that there is a time to learn, a time to heal and a time to act. And so it’s just something that for us, it’s going to be an ongoing process, no matter what the scorecard says. We understand that our society is very invested in perception and manipulates perception to make it look like the goal post has moved when in fact we haven’t moved that far. So while I can say there has been great progress, what I still know is that black trans women are still dying.
I still scroll through my feed and still see black trans bodies being pulled from lakes and dumpsters and found in hotel rooms and on the streets. And there’s a real serious conversation to be had. And I just want to say, just because everybody’s in Hollywood doesn’t mean everybody agrees. There are people in the hip-hop industry, as well as in the television and film industry, who are homophobic and transphobic. And some of them might even be LGBTQ, but have internalized homophobia and transphobia and so they move differently. And so when you have people like me and the cast of Pose ushering in an era of shameless representation, it shakes the foundations of what others have used to enter the room.
And so there’s a conversation that’s been hesitant to have, but we have it. And there have been many, many allies like your Sheryl Lee Ralphs and Gabrielle Unions and Janelle Monáes and people we can turn to in the room – your Alfre Woodards and even Will Smith. We were presenting at the Critics Choice Awards recently with the cast of Pose and he came off stage after winning his prize and showed me to Dominique [Jackson] so much love. And for me, that’s progress and the moment that comes full circle, when we have men like Dwyane Wade and Will Smith showing love to black gay men and trans people. And also show this change in the way they raise their own children.
Learn more about TransTech Summit and register to attend at TransTechSummit.com.