TransTech Social Enterprises kicked off Trans Awareness Month with a first-of-its-kind summit Nov. 3 at Columbia College and Nov. 4 at Groupon headquarters in Chicago.
The summit is the brainchild of TransTech Social Enterprises Founder and CEO Angelica Ross ( who was recently cast on Ryan Murphy's new FX show Pose alongside four other transgender actors ) and featured a keynote address by transgender entertainer, entrepreneur and LGBT activist Madison Hinton and workshops led by trans and gender nonconforming facilitators focusing on the four technology categoriesdesign, web/app, media and business.
Ross led the Transgenerational Caucus on Employment session where she outlined how different age groups within the LGBT community, and especially transgender people, deal with employment issues. She explained that TransTech reached out to AARP for their survey results on employment, and more specifically employment issues for LGBT people.
Among the AARP's finding, Ross noted the top reasons why people are not confident about finding a new job include age discrimination ( 79 percent ), employers not paying them commensurate to their experience or expertise ( 70 percent ) and an unfavorable job market/the economy ( 70 percent ) with about one-quarter of people identifying discrimination based on sexual orientation as either a major or minor reason why they cannot find a new job.
Ross said the AARP survey results indicated 71 percent of LGBT people have seen or experienced age discrimination with 55 percent saying age discrimination begins in one's 50s.
Throughout the presentation Ross asked audience members to weigh in with their own employment experiences.
One person brought up politics in the workplace and Ross said transgender people and people of color bring their identities to their jobs just by walking in the door.
"Your [transgender or racial] identity alone is politicized," said Ross.
One issue among transgender people is the need to take sick leave to take care of medical needs specific to their gender identity. Ross said AARP needs more help from the transgender community on this sick leave issue so they can share these findings with employers specifically, and the wider world.
Ross spoke about LGBT people, people of color and women in general wanting inclusive and fair workplace policies so they can grow and thrive in their jobs without being discriminated against. She pointed to the work Groupon ( summit host ) and PayPal ( summit sponsor ) have done to make their workplaces more inclusive for minorities and women. Ross said the reason why these companies changed was because someone asked them to put these policies in place.
The Sex Work and Social Justice session featured Ross, adult actor and activist Kelly Pierce and Sex Workers Outreach Project ( SWOP ) Michigan chapter volunteer and sex worker Jay Theden speaking about their life experiences, including how doing sex work has intersected with everything else in their lives.
Ross explained that for many transgender people doing sex work is the only way they can make enough money to pay the bills, including herself ( for a period of time ). She praised Janet Mock for telling the world she was a sex worker in her book, interviews and public speaking engagements and Hinton for her candor about being a sex worker during the previous evening's keynote address.
In terms of her time on I Am Cait, Ross said the producers cut most of her appearance and only focused on her being fired from four jobs and, as a result of this, going into a sex work. Ross also talked about being harassed and experiencing violence on the job and the EEOC doing nothing about it on "I Am Cait" as well as working for an adult website which she eventually redesigned to make it more marketable. All of this, Ross explained, led to creating her own website and then TransTech and her life today as a business owner, activist and actor.
"I am so grateful for my experiences in life," said Ross. "I also do not run away from my past nor do I shame anyone who is currently working in the adult industry in any capacity."
Theden recounted his path from being a foster child in North Carolina to his life in Detroit, Michigan as an activist and sex worker. He said when he aged out of the system at 18, he spent time in shelters, on the streets and couch-surfing until he got financial help so he could move into his first apartment. Once Theden was settled in his own place, he said one of the first things he did was be a big brother to other trans men and this led to him volunteering for SWOP and LGBT organizations in Detroit.
The only notable trans men Theden was aware of when he was younger were Buck Angel and Chaz Bono and this made it hard for him to come out as a trans man. Theden said he knew more trans women than trans men and for a time had to live as a masculine identified lesbian for safety reasons. He said one of the driving forces for his work today is to be a voice for trans men so their issues get addressed.
Pierce ( El Paso, Illinois native who now lives in Lombard, Illinois ), told the audience about her life both in and out of the adult industry, her activism on behalf of sex workers and her 2017 XBIZ TS ( transsexual ) Cam Model of the Year award. She is also a board member of the newly formed Adult Performers Actors Guild union and has a degree in psychology from Illinois State University.
She said being a cam model is where the money is at because the traditional porn industry is dying due to piracy sites.
In terms of her activism, Pierce said she helps trans people move from being on the streets sex workers into cam modeling which she says is a little safer way to earn money. Pierce said the only drawback to being online is forever losing one's anonymity.
Pierce explained that she transitioned when she was 12 ( she's 35 now ) and had the full support of her mom and later her dad. She noted when she came out this was the first time anyone in her small town heard about or encountered a transgender person. Pierce said her mom advocated for her with the school board including hiring a lawyer so she could attend school as her authentic self and won that fight.
This led to Pierce's activism on behalf of the entire LGBT community and especially other transgender students so they could be their authentic selves during school. She was also working for DCFS at the time.
Pierce noted that her activism included working with people in the adult industry and that is how she became a porn star. She said fame came to her almost instantly and when she left the industry in 2011 to find other work it was difficult since she used her real name. Pierce returned to the industry as a cam model and is now featured on the Chaturbate site, which she calls the most progressive adult industry site. Chaturbate is the first site to have trans spokesmodels. She said camming has allowed her to control her own brand.
Other sessions included building websites for fun and profit, increasing one's social media influence, graphic design for beginners and how to make one's public speaking impactful and the entire day's sessions featured trans identified speakers from various gender and ethnic identities.
A raffle drawing for multiple iMacs closed out the day's events and two of the winners donated theirs to attendees who were in need of a new computer.
See www.transtechsocial.org/ for more information and to view footage of the summit visit www.facebook.com/angelicaloveross/videos .