‘Accidental advocate’ for transgender, racial equality at Abington

Abington no place for hate

Angelica Ross, flanked by Anyi Ye and John Nguyen of the Penn State Abington Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Credit: Penn State

ABINGTON, Pa. — Penn State Abington kicked off Women’s History Month by welcoming Angelica Ross, a leader the transgender and racial equality movement, to campus for a discussion and lunch with students.

Ross told the gathering that “when your life is literally on the line just from walking down the street, you become what I call an accidental advocate.”

“Advocacy happens from wherever you are in your life,” she continued. “For example, a gym teacher can advocate for bodies of all types.”

For more than 10 years, Ross has created opportunities for trans and gender nonconforming people. She founded TransTech Social Enterprises, a Chicago-based incubator for LGBTQ talent that focuses on developing skills and economic empowerment. TransTech members have access to an online community and training as well as co-working and meet-up spaces.

“I am privileged to live my dream, but it came with challenges,” she said recalling for the Abington students her mother’s initial negative reaction when she came out. “Find support. If you can’t find it from family, make a family.”

Ross compared transitioning to the emergence of a butterfly — one can't seen the drastic changes occurring on the inside, only the external metamorphosis.

"And if you have someone in your life who is trans, you will be blessed by their life and their transition. It's not the details, it's about seeing how they are able to keep moving forward through constant change," she said.

Ross's advice to Abington students?

"Give yourself the grace to stumble," Ross said. "Ask yourself: How am I showing up right now? How you showed up during terrible times counts. It means you are moving forward."

Abington alumnus Nikita Arnett '16 asked Ross how she deals with the upswing in challenges facing trans and other communities in the United States. Ross suggested transformational thinking as a key.

“I look at Donald Trump in a humane way," she said. "I thank him for causing so much reflection and for pulling the dirt out from under the rug," instead of pushing the dirt under the rug.

Ross has been honored by the Human Rights Campaign and has appeared on The Trevor Noah Show.

Ross' visit to Abington occurred on the same day Penn State University reaffirmed its support and protections for members of the transgender community.