In the latest installment of On The Stage’s “Trailblazer” series, we’re thrilled to highlight the extraordinary career of Angelica Ross. A woman of many talents, Ross has made significant contributions as an actress, businesswoman, and transgender rights advocate, breaking barriers and setting new standards in the entertainment and tech industries. Her extraordinary career is a testament to her unparalleled talent, resilience, and relentless pursuit of inclusivity and representation.

A Pursuit of Self: Angelica Ross’s Early Life

Angelica Ross was born on November 28, 1980, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and raised in nearby Racine. After completing high school, she enlisted in the U.S. Navy to secure a G.I. Bill to fund her college education. However, her time in the service was marred by harassment during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era, which prohibited openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals from serving in the military. In an interview with The Advocate, Ross explains, “[I was] running away from who I was, thinking the military would give me stability & make me ‘straight,'” Ross wrote. “I learned so much about myself. It’s why I hold so much conviction.”

At 19, with the encouragement of a supportive friend, Angelica Ross embarked on her gender transition journey. Following a difficult period when her mother rejected her, she found solace with her father in Roanoke, Virginia. There, Angelica juggled multiple jobs to sustain herself and finance her education in cosmetology. Later, she relocated to Hollywood, Florida, where she enthusiastically pursued modeling, web management, and acting opportunities.

Rising to Stardom on Screen

Angelica Ross’s early acting career featured roles in the comedy film “Natale a Miami” (2005) and the short film “Bella Maddo” (2010), marking the beginning of her journey in the entertainment industry. However, her big moment arrived in 2016 with the critically acclaimed web series “Her Story.” This groundbreaking series, which explored the lives and experiences of trans women in Los Angeles, earned Ross significant recognition and an Emmy nomination. “Her Story” was a pivotal project that brought much-needed visibility to trans narratives and showcased Ross’s exceptional acting talent to a broader audience.

Building on this success, Ross’s career gained further momentum with notable guest appearances on popular television series such as the C.B.S. legal drama “Doubt,” the T.N.T. crime drama “Claws,” and the Amazon Prime Video comedy-drama “Transparent.” Each role demonstrated her versatility and depth as an actress, further establishing her presence in the industry.

But Ross didn’t stop at acting—she also stepped into the world of producing with the short film Missed Connections, which she both produced and starred in. The film was a hit at several film festivals, including Outfest, the Baltimore International Black Film Festival, La Femme International Film Festival, and the Outflix Film Festival in Memphis. These accomplishments underscored Ross’s multifaceted talents and commitment to bringing diverse and authentic stories to the screen.

Posing For Success: Breakthrough Roles 

Ross’s defining moment came in 2018 when she dazzled audiences as Candy Ferocity in Ryan Murphy’s acclaimed F.X. series “Pose.” Ross’s powerful performance resonated with viewers and critics alike, and she quickly became a standout star in a show celebrated for its groundbreaking representation of LGBTQ+ characters and stories. This role didn’t just elevate Ross’s career; it wrote her name in television history, as “Pose” became a cultural milestone.

Building on the success of “Pose,” Ross continued her collaboration with Ryan Murphy. She took on the role of psychologist Donna Chambers in the F.X. anthology series “American Horror Story: 1984.” With this role, Ross made history once again, becoming the first transgender actress to secure two series regular roles on major television series.

In 2021, Ross returned to “American Horror Story” for its tenth season, further solidifying her place in the series’ legacy. 

Angelica Ross’s Broadway Debut 

In September 2022, Angelica Ross made history again by becoming the first openly transgender woman to play a leading role on Broadway. She took on the iconic character of Roxie Hart in the long-running musical “Chicago,” showcasing her versatility and talent as an actress. This groundbreaking role was a testament to her skills and an inspiring moment for transgender representation in theater. Her performance in “Chicago” was met with widespread acclaim, marking a significant personal triumph and a milestone for the broader LGBTQ+ community.

Ross took the stage on September 12 for an eight-week run in the esteemed production. In doing so, she joined the first openly transgender performers who have graced Broadway’s spotlight. This illustrious group includes Kate Bornstein from “Straight White Men,” L Morgan Lee from “A Strange Loop,” Peppermint from “Head Over Heels,” and Alexandra Billings from “Wicked.”

Charting a Course for Change

Beyond her achievements on screen and stage, Ross’s advocacy work is equally impressive. She is the founder and C.E.O. of TransTech Social Enterprises, a company dedicated to training and employing transgender people in the tech industry. Through this initiative, Ross has provided countless opportunities for transgender individuals to gain skills and secure employment in a field that often overlooks them. Her work has garnered widespread recognition, including being named the “1st Foot Soldier of the Year” by Melissa Harris-Perry and serving as a featured speaker at the White House LGBTQ Tech and Innovation Summit.

In January 2024, Ross launched a new weekly podcast, “N.O.W.: No Opportunity Wasted,” which focused on deep discussions about politics, pop culture, and more. The podcast featured world leaders, celebrities, and everyday people.

“I was not expecting it at this moment, but the child in me had always seen this. I had done musical theater so much in my childhood and I thought this was the direction I was going, but I went on quite the detour. I spent all these years in lead roles doing musical theater and having the local newspaper put me on the front page and write up. My town started to be proud of me, and then I transitioned and started finding myself. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it here—I know that my younger self is squealing.” via an Interview with Caitlin Moynihan for “Boston in Broadway”

Looking Forward: Advocacy, Art, and Hollywood

Known for her unapologetic advocacy and groundbreaking performances, Angelica Ross has been an outspoken voice against racism and transphobia in the entertainment industry. Despite her success in Hollywood, Ross announced in 2023 that she was leaving the industry. She plans to move back to Georgia and prepare for a run for public office, demonstrating her commitment to effecting change beyond the entertainment world. Her departure from Hollywood leaves a void that will be sorely felt, but her legacy as a trailblazer and advocate will continue to inspire generations to come.

Ross’s journey from a small town in Wisconsin to the bright lights of Broadway and the screens of millions is a powerful narrative of resilience, talent, and relentless advocacy. She continues to break barriers, inspire change, and pave the way for future generations of transgender individuals in the entertainment and tech industries. Her career is a testament to the impact one person can have in challenging norms, creating opportunities, and fostering a more inclusive world.

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