Vivienne Ming is one of eight outstanding trans women founders we’re reflecting upon in honor of Women’s History Month. (Credit: Vivienne Ming)

We’re living through a critical moment in the fight to preserve rights for transgender people.

Throughout the United States, trans individuals and allies have been rallying against what the Human Rights Campaign calls an “unprecedented onslaught” of bigoted legislative proposals. Hundreds of them have been introduced recently, largely at the state level and often targeting children – from bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth (five of which have been enacted), to laws that prohibit trans kids from participating in sports.

Hateful rhetoric is also taking a main stage – quite literally so at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. There, lawmakers like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia floated bill proposals that attack trans people and the doctors and parents who would provide them with care. And most notably, Daily Wire commentator Michael Knowles called for “transgenderism” to be “eradicated from public life entirely” – which he said would be “for the good of society.”

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Indeed, it’s an especially harrowing time for LGBTQ individuals. But to be clear, it’s never been easy for trans people to navigate life in America. A 2021 McKinsey report states that trans workers are twice as likely to be unemployed as their cisgender counterparts, and stand to make roughly 32% less in salary. Over half of the trans people surveyed expressed discomfort with being out at work, and two-thirds of trans respondents admit to concealing their identities in professional contexts outside of their offices.

But it’s not just about their livelihoods – it’s about their lives, as trans people are also far more likely than cisgender folks to die by homicide or suicide.

That’s why we’re taking some time to honor eight trans women who have built intriguing businesses and nonprofits in a variety of industries – founders who, despite the world they live in, are creating and thriving.

1

Angelica Ross. (Credit: Miss Ross Inc., Wikimedia Commons)

Angelica Ross

TransTech Social is a co-working space and incubator specially designed to create professional pathways for transgender and nonbinary individuals. Its founder, Ross, is perhaps better known for her empowering performance on the hit FX television series “Pose.” But through TransTech Social, she’s lifting up trans workers and founders by connecting them with technology and opportunities to build their networks, refine their resumes and more.

2

Mara Keisling. (Credit: National Center for Transgender Equality, Wikimedia Commons)

Mara Keisling

The National Center for Transgender Equality is a policy and media advocacy organization that has been championing transgender people’s rights since 2003. Keisling, its founder, spearheaded the organization for nearly two decades, garnering awards from organizations like PFLAG, Out for Work and the Transgender Law Center for her work along the way. She first became an activist after coming out as trans in her 40s.

3

Martine Rothblatt. (Bit7ocker, Wikimedia Commons)

Martine Rothblatt

An accomplished woman with a lengthy resume – in addition to being an entrepreneur, she’s also a lawyer – Rothblatt is the co-founder of Sirius Satellite Radio, as well as the founder and current CEO of biotech company United Therapeutics. She left the former and launched the latter after her daughter was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension; today, it’s a publicly traded company worth $1.4 billion, as of 2020.

4

Elle Moxley. (Credit: teleSUR English, Wikimedia Commons)

Elle Moxley

Moxley is both a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, as well as the founder of The Marsha P. Johnson Institute, an organization that uplifts Black trans people through a mix of advocacy and community-building. Moxley has also been outspoken about failures to properly include trans women in various social justice movements – for example, speaking out against the so-called “pussyhats” that were made popular by the 2017 Women’s March. The raison d’etre around her work is as simple as it is critical –  “I wanted Black trans people to have a home” wherever they go, she told Forbes.

5

Carmen Liu. (Carmen Liu Facebook page)

Carmen Liu

Underwear: It’s a basic necessity. And through her self-named fashion line, Liu is making sure that everybody can access options that are comfortable (and cute). The UK-based business has been selling its wares since 2019 – a bid to ensure that underwear shopping for trans individuals is not a “dreaded experience.” Liu also sells underwear for trans girls and nonbinary children, to supply them with “the stepping stones to finding themselves, in a supportive, validating experience,” per the company’s website.

6

Eden Rose Torres. (Eden Rose Torres’ Instagram account)

Eden Rose Torres

Torres is an activist and speaker who discusses anti-LGBTQ legislation and the experience of being a trans woman of color for Houston-area news affiliates and large-scale events. She’s also the founder of Pride Portraits, a nonprofit that promotes visibility for members of the LGBTQ community and those who support them through a mix of professional photography and storytelling. Over 6,000 people’s tales have been documented through her ongoing campaign – including notable figures like actress Laverne Cox and Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

7

Vivienne Ming. (Credit: Vivenne Ming)

Dr. Vivienne Ming

A serial entrepreneur, Ming is the mind behind ventures such as Socos Labs, a think tank exploring solutions to myriad health problems, and Dionysus Digital Health, a stress-focused tech startup. Throughout her career, Ming has always encouraged others to follow their dreams and ideas, the way she has. As she said to Forbes in 2022, “I always say: Don’t let anyone define you. You define yourself.”

8

Michaela Mendelsohn. (Credit: TransCanWork)

Michaela Mendelsohn

As the CEO of several Pollo West fast-food locations, Mendelsohn saw the importance of being an inclusive, supportive job provider. That’s why she also founded TransCanWork, a California-based operation working to improve representation of – and comfort for – trans workers throughout the U.S. by providing support for employers and employees alike. In addition, Mendelsohn sits on the board of directors for The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth.

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