Life

Angelica Ross is making it her business to “curate courage” for marginalized communities

New York, NY - May 4, 2019: Angelica Ross wearing dress by Michael Costello attends the 30th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at New York Hilton Midtown
Angelica Ross attends the 30th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at New York Hilton Midtown in 2019.Photo: lev radin/Shutterstock

At any given time, Angelica Ross has many different things on her mind. When you’re an entrepreneur, of course, you have to. While Ross, who is fresh from starring on the groundbreaking series Pose for three years, is not your typical entrepreneur, she still thinks like one.

“My main business right now is Miss Ross Inc.,” Ross said to LGBTQ Nation in a recent Zoom sit-down, “but I’ll have you know, I have had businesses under many names, and then demolished that business that wasn’t working, and then tried another. You know, entrepreneurship is a journey – you just have to stay in it and things get better over time.”

Related: Don Lemon opens up about walking through fire to become one of the nation’s top news anchors

Ross’s insight about making and running a successful business is an indisputably unique one, especially within the Black LGBTQ community. By the time she made her network television debut as an actress in 2017, she had successfully started and begun to ran two distinct businesses: the aforementioned Miss Ross Inc., and TransTech Social Enterprises, a non-profit organization that serves as an incubator assisting many across the LGBTQ community, but especially trans people, into advancing their career in or with technology.

“Before I had budgets, before I had money, before I had certain things, I had to do a lot of things,” Ross recalled, “I was the one doing the website. I did a photo retouching, I did photography as well. Where that helps me now, today, obviously is I wore all the hats. And one thing to know about entrepreneurship is that you have to be willing to wear all the hats before you can afford to pass that hat on, or delegate, to someone else.”

Although she is most recognized for her talent in entertainment, the first hat that Ross currently puts on every day is the one for business. There’s many other hats, though, that she owns and can’t simply be removed. She is a Black trans woman, a Navy veteran, a former sex worker, a current public figure, and a marginalized person in America.

Ross recently recounted her unique journey on Business Curious, a podcast series produced by GoDaddy and hosted by Scott Shigeoka entirely focused on LGBTQ entrepreneurs and business operators. Other guests in the series’ ten episodes so far include RuPaul’s Drag Race star Nina West and Robbi Katherine Anthony, creator of the mobile app Euphoria specifically for trans and gender non-conforming people.

On the episode, Ross admits to crying when recalling the time she delivered the keynote for TransTech Social’s first virtual summit last year, seeing people from around the world, tuned in just to hear her advice.

“I know from my time of life growing up as a trans woman, like struggling — I can do it. I am strong, I am resilient, I’m a lot of things,” she told LGBTQ Nation. “I will say that I’m really fortunate and appreciative of my struggles, knowing what it’s like to be broke and what it’s like to have to make certain decisions in order to, like, eat for that night and stay alive or, you know, have a place to stay.”

With those parts of her identity, and her background, Ross can’t help but speak up about present issues, especially those that affect her community. While the focus of our discussion began with her entrepreneurship, Ross spoke candidly regarding America’s progression toward equality.

In the first half of the year, LGBTQ people saw the largest anti-LGBTQ legislative movement to take place in once in American history. The response has not been enough, and Ross expressed her desire for answers from the White House.

“Thank you for this Juneteenth holiday — but this is not what we asked for,” she said. “We asked for you to reallocate funds from the police to schools. We asked for you to decrease brutality from police. We asked for you to give more access to women’s health care and to abortion rights. So there’s a lot to be done, especially with these anti-LGBTQ bans, anti-trans bills and all that.”

She recalled that one of President Joe Biden’s appeals to voters was his ability “to reach across the aisle” and his commitment to bipartisanship. “So, Mr. ‘I was the one to reach across aisles,’ tell us, how are you now working across the aisle to stop these bans?” Ross asked allowed, and indirectly, of Biden.

“How are you working with these Republicans, who are basically ignoring the fact that January 6th happened, and they’re playing in our faces like we all didn’t just saw what we we saw. Are you using executive power? Like, what are we doing?”

Ross made clear that her concerns about the president’s response “doesn’t mean that we voted wrong or any of that,” but she believes the community needs a tangible response from the White House.

“I think that we, the people, need to continue what we planned when the election was happening, even though so many people were just, I think, in a very ignorant space about at that time,” Ross explained, “that we’re looking to still hold [Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris] accountable from so many different intersections about what we need, what black lives need, what LGBTQ lives need.”

(She reiterated that the final ticket was not her preferred choice — “Let me be clear that Elizabeth Warren was my first choice and she was someone who reached out in very real ways” but “Biden and Harris, those were our options.”)

“We are now having faith in the fact that we chose you to handle the situation and we cannot let up on that. These are the people that we have the most faith in, but now we have to hold their feet to the fire, period.”

Although Ross faced harassment following her hosting of a Presidential forum on LGBTQ rights in 2019, she described their value and that we need more of them. “We need to create our own bodies of accountability and amplify these sort of town hall spaces or whatever you want to call them.”

Ross has dealt with the headache of daring to speak her mind about politicians already. Relentless trolls and supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) attacked her for daring to point out that Sanders was not attending either LGBTQ forum during the 2020 presidential primaries, including the one she hosted. The visceral response to that fact drove her off of Twitter for some time.

Despite that, Ross has no qualms about making pointed remarks about Biden and Harris. While noting that politics can harm a person’s career – both as a business owner and Hollywood figure – Ross has survived without being both before, with much fewer resources.

“I can easily walk away from things knowing that I can do without or I can go without if I have to do it for a month or two months or three months or whatever it is that I have to do.”

She and Indya Moore, her fellow Pose star (and a 2020 LGBTQ Nation Heroes Award recipient), are not concerned about going against the popular approach.

“I think what you see folks like myself and Indya Moore speaking up on issues, such as Palestine or something that other folks might feel a little uncomfortable speaking up about, they and I both have had conversations with each other [that are like,] ‘Girl, they can try to take from me.'”

Ross continued, “I think a lot of people are afraid to speak up about things because they feel like their opportunities, or people with them, will start to shut down, you know, because they’re ‘too radical’ or ‘too this or that.’ Me and Indya [are] like, ‘take it. If you think you can take it from me, take it — because I can create my own.’ That’s how we are. We always have been that way.”

It’s the same mindset that helped Ross complete her training in the Navy, although she had to remain closeted to do it and eventually received a discharge under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies. It helped her after being kicked out of her home, being left to self-fund her survival and ongoing transition. It helped her in obtaining a full time job without a college degree at a trans advocacy center, just to leave after she witnessed how they further marginalize people they believe they are helping.

It’s the same mindset she carries with her now, now that she has the ability to follow her mind in every decision. When it comes to politics, the reality of anti-LGBTQ discrimination is the main thing affecting her viewpoint.

“The whole fame thing and success, that kind of clouds people’s minds and judgement around what things really are. But what I’ve learned is, most of people’s fears around queer people, LGBTQ people, especially for parents… has a lot to do with them knowing the landscape and knowing that there is a big chance that someone’s going to mistreat their child or that they are going to have a hard life or a hard experience.”

“But what I know is that success changes things,” Ross said. “My parents started to change the way they look at me when they saw that I am going to be fine. I think things could be a lot easier if parents could just start from that space, being able to know that, ‘My child is smart and brilliant and I can support them in so many ways. I know the world is going to be what it is, but they’re going to be fine.’ But it’s one of those things that I would say to any marginalized person is to focus on being great at something at being successful in your life.”

As she expressed in her episode of Business Curious, the last in the series’ second season, the best business advice she can share with people about achieving success: “Take inventory of the value in their lives, and take inventory of how they can really answer the questions, ‘How can I help you?’ ‘How can I be of service?’ And you need to really be able to know.”

While she’s “not living in the red anymore,” she recalls that getting above the bottom line “just really does take time. And I would tell anybody that starting their own business to stick with it, be willing to downsize, or create what they call a MVP — Minimally Viable Product — in order to just take care of yourself. You don’t have to do things really big at first.”

The Equality Act, a bill currently stalled in Congress for yet another year that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing federal civil rights legislation, is also a minimal need for the community. Yet it increasingly looks unlikely that the Equality Act will pass the Senate after passing the House, despite support from most of the majority party in both chambers.

Of course, even much smaller asks have become controversial issues, such as the Pentagon’s decision not to allow Pride flags to fly on military property, a ban enacted by former President Donald Trump and kept in place, despite Biden’s pledge to have it reversed.

When LGBTQ Nation asked Ross about that, given her experience in the military, she responded, “I just know that we have a lot of work to do and whether flags are flown or not, whether we have a national holiday recognizing things or not, I’m interested in seeing a real change versus like being invested in these symbols of change.”

Ross explained that whether this government offers protections that the LGBTQ community need, or symbolic moves that they don’t need, we all have to stand against injustice.

“I’m going to be making sure that I have used my time to get us to wake up already to the injustices,” she said, no matter how it jeopardizes her public popularity.

“I know that I won’t stop until I’m in the ground honey, until they put the dirt on top of me — or however else it’s going to be. It’s past time to just let people live and start valuing life — all life everywhere.”

Her hope is that those in the community, “especially those who consider ourselves Democrats or Democratic,” continues pushing to make the world safer for Black LGBTQ people.

“Now, what we, the people just need to do, is create.”

While she has taken a post-Pose pause to focus on her entrepreneurship and advocacy, Ross is currently “producing scripted and unscripted television” and combing through opportunities — with her own peace in mind, of course — outside of filming yet another season of the anthology show American Horror Story.

“Listen, my time is very valuable. I have basically turned that statement into a mantra — for every second, every day, I get to decide how to sort of distribute that value. And for me, it shifts from day to day,” she shared.

Like many of Pose‘s cast members, the options for where Ross will go next are seemingly unlimited. Outside of working with Pose co-creator Ryan Murphy on AHS at the moment, she’s making it clear that she’s open to all the paths — whether that’s becoming an action star, or sitting in the recently available fifth chair on The View.

Or maybe both.

Ross manages her career based on her “personal PhD course” where she developed her approach into one acronym. SILC — understanding one’s “Spiritual foundation” (“I do not care what it is,” she remarked. “You cannot ignore the fact that you have a tank of energy, a soul, a spirit, whatever you want to call it”), their “Intrinsic value,” their “Life condition, and how to improve it,” and how to “Curate your courage.”

That means, “Do not let the world tell you that you need a degree or a certain designation in order to be successful. You can create your own curriculum that is very specific to your talents and your passions. That is the quickest way to success by focusing on what is natural to you.”

Having hoped to obtain a free college education via the military, but not having had the chance to after the start of her transition, Ross now continues to determine which path she is on.

“I’m somebody that has learned how to create my own path, and I hope that, you know, what people would get from listening to my story is inspiration and motivation to not give up on their own challenges, no matter what the scoreboard looks like.

“But overall,” she says, speaking to how she’s manifested success despite those challenges, “I say that I am my business, and I mind my business and I encourage other people to mind their business.”

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