Angelica Ross -- the dynamic entrepreneur who recently founded Chicago-based nonprofit TransTech -- has personally seen the best and worst of what a transgender person can face on the job market.
That's why she started TransTech, which will offer a training academy and apprenticeships for aspiring trans web developers and graphic designers this Fall.
"TransTech emerged from my story, [which] is the same story for so many trans women of color," Ross tells The Advocate. "When I began my transition, I was fired from my job, estranged from my family, and introduced to sex work and the adult industry."
Soon the technologically-inclined Ross decided to teach herself web coding and graphic design, and was able to become successfully self-employed as a freelancer.
"Over the course of 10 years ... I discovered technology as a path to independence for trans people. I no longer had to face on-the-job discrimination and harassment if I didn't want to," she explained. "I could log-in and make money without people caring about what I look or sound like."
Her experiences with Internet freelancing, as an Apple employee, and a stint in beauty school planted the seed for TransTech, which is now becoming a reality through help from an Indiegogo fundraiser.
"It is my mission to make TransTech the Apple of the nonprofit industry!" Ross says.
More specifically, the project's ultimate goal is to empower trans attendees to become self-employed independent contractors in the tech industry. Apprentices will accomplish this by practicing their skills in a training setting, similar to beauty school students. Customers will pay an affordable rate for web and graphic design, and apprentices will be able to earn income; any extra profit will be used by TransTech to continue the next cycle of apprenticeships.
Ross says tht the program's unique setup came to her after she began observing other employment programs in Chicago. "[They] were focusing heavily on training people for food service jobs or manual labor jobs," she recalls. "The attitude was that tech skills would be over-the-heads of the populations typically served by social services. But I knew for a fact this wasn't true, and I set out to prove it."
Tech skills are, Ross believes, going to be increasingly in-demand in our tech-savvy world. She hopes TransTech will set its participants up for "economic improvement," and help ease the "extreme levels of poverty, discrimination, harassment, and violence towards the trans community, especially trans women of color."
She refers to this approach as "social enterprise:" the maximization of both individual and community well-being, rather than profit. In the video below, she beams with confidence at how needed a program like TransTech is at a time like this. Trans community advocates -- including Trans*H4CK founder Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler, coder Naomi Ceder, and GLAAD Media Strategist Tiq Milan -- have agreed, coming out on social media in vocal support of the nonprofit.
Ross' only lament so far, she says, is her inability to do more. "We have received roughly 30 applications and they are still pouring in; my email and phone are bombarded by hopeful apprentices," she tells The Advocate. "But we can only afford to enroll 2 people [in the first session], which breaks my heart."
"That's why," she concludes, "even though we are only looking to raise $15,000 to get us through the first 12-week apprenticeship, I am hoping the rest of the community understands how much of a difference TransTech can make in the lives of trans people and the LGBT community as a whole."
"The more money we raise, the more trans people we can enroll, pay, and set on the path to independence."
To learn more about TransTech, watch the fundraising video below.