Angelica Ross Accepts the Visibility Award from the Human Rights Campaign
First, I want to thank my Mom and Dad who are here tonight and without whom, I would not be standing here. Thank you to all the visible trans people who have come before me, who have endured endless harassment and discrimination in broad daylight. SPECIAL THANKS to trans women of color, who are pushed out of their homes and into the margins, the criminal system, addiction, the arms of men who violently flex their masculinity when it comes into question, and sex work, because it was the only work WE could find where WE were told we are beautiful and have value. For all the trans people who have been burned by the magnifying glass that high visibility brings, and for those who still feel invisible I accept & dedicate this award to you, because I know that visibility comes with a price.
When I quit my job at the Trans Life Center right here in Chicago, I, and many – if not all of the other trans employees who worked with me at the time, felt tokenized and silenced by our salaries and perceived positions of power. I did not have a master’s degree, hell I don’t even have a bachelor’s degree, (I know Dad, I promise one of these days I’ll get back to that), I’m just a little busy right now. But, seriously I know firsthand that it was a struggle for them to hire me, even though I came highly recommended by the community, and had a resume that screamed resilience, it was still hard.
When I finally got the job and had been tasked with developing an employment program specifically to address the challenges trans people face with regards to employment, my recommendations were rejected. With a focus on metrics, I saw a program that was continuing to underestimate what’s possible for trans women of color. Week after week for almost 2 years I sat face-to-face with trans and gender non-conforming job seekers, some who held more privilege than others, who had degrees or resumes that provided options, and others who were offered safety and sanitations training so they could work in food service. I have NOTHING against working in food service.
We are privileged to have people like Michaela Mendelsohn, CEO of Pollo Loco in California, that proudly employ trans women. I worked in food service myself, waiting tables for over 6 years, and it was some hard work. I experienced daily harassment on the job though and ultimately I was fired for being trans. This was a quite a few years ago, thanks to the work of many of us in this room and many of our allies, things are different now- they are evolving. I wanted to offer my community a different experience. So I made one of the most challenging decisions to quit my job with no life raft tied to the boat. But then Jay-Z’s lyrics starting cycling through my head.
“How could you falter when you’re the rock of GibraltarI had to get of the boat so I could walk on waterThis ain’t no tall order, this is nothin’ to meDifficult takes a day, impossible takes a week”
Well it’s taken a little over 2 years and I have done what many insisted was impossible. I wanted to send a very clear message, that no one determines my value but me, and that no matter what the scoreboard looks like, winning is a state of mind. Through TransTech alone we have placed over $100,000 into the hands of a community to show proof positive that you are valuable and worthy of the investment. Thank you to MillerCoors who is also being honored tonight, to date, you have been TransTech’s ONLY corporate sponsor. I hope that changes soon and other companies follow your leadership and solidarity. And Thank you to the HRC who has also begun to invest in TransTech. Some of the footage you saw tonight was from a hands-on public education and media training project where trans people were paid to run the lights, and the cameras, to get paid to edit the video and to amplify their voices. We need more opportunities like these.
Too often we have allowed organizations to prioritize marriage equality and tell us to wait our turn and it seems we might be getting told to wait our turn yet again for access to public accommodations. This is critical now more than ever, especially on the horizon of a Trump administration. This issue is about more than including public accommodation protections for transgender people tactically in state-level measures., but it’s about centering the individuals that are most impacted strategically. As a black trans woman I bring a lived experience and expertise that should not just be celebrated, but consulted. Our voices need to be included – on goals, on strategy, and on tactics. Really on every aspect. Nothing about us without us. Period.
Human rights are not just gay rights, Human rights are the rights of those at standing rock, Human Rights should be in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, with trans people, with our undocumented friends, and our muslim neighbors. Human Rights require a dedication to equality at every intersection of life! Now more than ever we must have a renewed commitment to this.
Like I said earlier, visibility comes with a price. And the that is why tonight as a black trans woman I want to ask you for your support going forward. Thank you Miller Coors, but I want to ask those that are in this room for your support. Here’s an opportunity to directly support a trans woman of color. Because when I am supported, I support an entire community.