Speaker empowers transgender lives

Angelica Ross talks to a crowd of students and community members about being transgender as part of the first event of the 2016 Iowa State Pride Week. Ross is the CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises, a company that helps transgender people with job training and work experience. 

Ellen Bombela

To kick off Pride Week at Iowa State, Angelica Ross visited Monday to share her message of empowering transgender lives in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty,” Ross said.

Ross then went on to share a variety of points that came very personal to her.

“Instead of identifying that I individually have worth and value and am unique, we can see it in other things and other people, but because of all of the factors that come together for me, my value is unique,” Ross said. “We are not in a place right now where we think about things in that way.”

Ross brought up the idea of the “The Parable of the Medicinal Herbs” next.

Ross told a story of flowers and trees. Flowers are accepted even though they bring unique smells and beauty. Ross then talked about redwood trees and how they take up more space, but also bring space for animals. Ross compared this to people.

“We need to be mindful of the space you take up so you can create space as well,” Ross said.

Ross then talked about passive privilege, specifically bathroom laws. Ross said at first, the goal of a successful transition was to blend in, but it’s more than that.

“A successful transition has nothing to do with blending in,” Ross said. “A successful transition means that I have gone from one place to another place where I feel more powerful and more rooted and more grounded in my value and who I am.”

Ross then spoke about “Nothing about us without us.” Ross talked about how different programs and organizations try to be inclusive and create programs and workshops to improve being inclusive, but while they are creating them, they don’t start with the people they are trying to include and instead invite them too late.

“If you are going to serve an organization, you need to start with it,” Ross said.

Ross next talked about how equality is not equity. She shared her media series “Her Story.”

“Her Story” is unique because it includes transgender actors, including Angelica Ross, who play transgender people. The soundtrack included transgender artists, and one of the editors was transgender.

“It sucks being the only trans person, and it sucks being the only black person and feeling like you have to speak for the entire community,” Ross said. “The reason why we had such a great impact is because on set, we had trans women, cis women, lesbian, heterosexual, heteronormative, non-binary. We had all of that together.”

Ross continued her presentation by talking about buzzwords, including diversity, inclusion, intersectionality and racial and social justice.

“Accountability is a commitment to yourself and to your colleagues,” Ross said.

Ross also talked about how leaders of organizations need to be offering accountability, and if they aren’t, something needs to be done.

“As people paying good amounts of money to come here and be in this environment, you have every right to demand that and ask for that accountability,” Ross said. 

Ross concluded her presentation by explaining what it’s like to create space.

“Don’t just take up space; create space,” she said.

Ross talked about how each individual matters, and if everybody made a commitment to social justice, so much change could be created. 

“What will you do? What commitment will you make? What accountability will you offer in order to create the environment and space that you want this to be?” Ross said in closing.

Der Vang, multicultural liaison officer on campus, attended the lecture to support Pride Week and the organizations involved.

“What our guest speaker said was so important about not only knowing the identities that we have, but really understanding the different identities and making sure that those voices are heard and validated,” Vang said.