This year’s First Amendment Week (FAW) began with an interview with Angelica Ross, an actress, activist and businesswoman and this year's kickoff keynote speaker. Ross was interviewed by outgoing Loyolan Editor-in-Chief Molly Box and the ASLMU director of Free Speech and Expression Robyn DeLeon on Sunday, Feb. 21. FAW is co-sponsored by the Loyolan and ASLMU.
Ross is best known for her roles in the TV series Pose and American Horror Story: 1984. She is also the founder and CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises, a company which aids transgender individuals in the tech field.
During the interview, Ross spoke about her childhood, including being shunned by the church she grew up in, and being a young activist — including being an advocate for those with HIV, and being a part of her school’s newspaper.
Ross, a Black transgender woman, spoke about her feelings of “dysphoria” regarding her gender identity. She recalled a time when she had to disrobe on set, an expectation that was not communicated to her, and how that affected her. “It was so traumatizing,” said Ross.
"We wanted to have Angelica Ross come speak at FAW because of the amazing work she's done on and off screen," said Box. "Our theme this year is 'Expression from the Margins,' and as a Black trans woman she has had to face hurdle after hurdle to speak out and advocate for herself and those in her community, which she has done and is continuing to do."
Ross said she felt more welcomed and affirmed in Buddhism and is now a practicing Buddhist. She also discussed her wide skill set, including how she taught herself how to code, record music and do graphic design, among other things. These skills have translated into her success as a businesswoman.
When asked about how to effectively amplify voices from marginalized groups—fitting with this year's theme—Ross talked about the importance of individuals putting their time, money and resources into their community.
“Amplify voices that are really doing work in community spaces,” she said.
Ross also talked about the issues within academia, including how the stories of marginalized groups are often left out. She said her philosophy is for everyone to have a role in educating themselves, filling in the gaps that a traditional education might leave out.
“Everyone needs to take responsibility for their own life and their own education,” said Ross. She also made it clear, with or without formal education: “I need you to know that you’re brilliant.”
When prompted about her future endeavors, Ross said she was an executive producer on two shows that are currently in the process of being sold to studios. One of her main goals for these series is diversity on and off screen.
The event was held virtually on Zoom and had almost 100 attendees. It was one of a number of events for First Amendment Week. You can find the full list of events here. The final keynote speaker will be rapper and activist Vic Mensa, held on Wednesday, Feb. 21 from 6 - 7 pm PST. You can register for the event here.