Actor, founder, and activist Angelica Ross first broke out as a performer. On-screen she made history as the first female transgender actress to secure two series-regular roles after being cast on the ninth season of FX’s American Horror Story: 1984, and the tenth season of the horror anthology series. She also starred in Ryan Murphy’s drama Pose, also on FX, which explored New York’s LGBTQ drag culture in the late 1980s.
Though her work has made her a symbol of success and strength in the movement for transgender and racial equality, her path wasn’t always so clear. Speaking at the 2021 Fast Company Innovation Festival on Thursday, she recalled the earlier days of her career when she appeared with her mother on the OWN TV show Black Women OWN the Conversation.
“I went to Los Angeles to start acting, then my mom’s health started failing,” she said. “[I thought] my mom, who told me to kill myself when I was younger, now needs me to take care of her.”
The segment eventually went viral, and Ross has used some of her experiences to bring real emotion to her performances. Ross said she is now developing her own scripted and nonscripted series.
Outside of her acting career, Ross founded TransTech Social Enterprises, a nonprofit that helps members of the trans community get apprenticeships in graphic design and web development, and she’s also the president of Miss Ross Inc.
Through TransTech, she said she hopes to fill a void that some of the more prominent LGBTQ+ organizations don’t. “A lot of these LGBTQ centers have turned into very glamorous almost capitalist structures,” she said, adding “I wanted to teach my community how to create space wherever they are. As long as you have an internet connection, you can dial in and you can connect to someone, you can connect to a job opportunity, to mentorship, to free tutorials on YouTube.”
The organization has even partnered with the likes of Salesforce and PayPal to help graduates of the program get jobs.
When asked about marrying a career in art and activism, Ross shared a piece of advice: “You need to focus on you and becoming the best you that you can be. When you are the best cook or the best seamstress or writer you’re in demand, whatever you do. From that place of success, you’ll find advocacy. . . . When I’m advocating for trans people and trans rights, I’m advocating from a place of real experience.”