Amy Ross was born in La Crescenta, California on April 28, 1953, and grew up in nearby Glendale. Semi-rural and idyllic in its own way, Amy’s hometown was very limited for someone with a keen mind and a strong penchant for improving the world.
Amy also grew up in with a Jewish father – a fact she didn’t discover until she was 60 years old. Her father had changed his last name to hide his Jewish heritage. In spite of her parent’s conservative politics, Amy was radicalized as a teenager, joining protests against the Vietnam War. She was also a voracious reader – and Glendale was simply too small. Her first attempt at escape came via marriage to a man at 21. That didn’t work. Within four years, Amy was out on her own, ready to define her sexuality, her work, and her life.
Amy’s activism went from a spark to a blaze with the 1978 Briggs Initiative, which aimed to ban gay men and lesbians from working in California public schools. Thanks to the fervent efforts of queer men and women and their allies up and down the state, the Briggs Initiative was rejected by California voters. The Golden State would never be the same, and neither would Amy. After earning her BA from Cal State Fresno in 1980, she earned her Ph.D. in experimental pathology from USC in 1986. For more than 30 years, she worked primarily in the field of cancer diagnostics. She also used her scientific training to help develop early treatments against HIV/AIDS. Amy holds three patents in the United States, and she has contributed as author and co-author to over 75 scientific publications.
Amy has also worked tirelessly to advance the visibility and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the STEM professions. To this end, she and a group of colleagues formed the LA Gay Scientists, which evolved to become the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP). Amy also helped found the USC Lambda LGBT Alumni Association in 1992, the first of its kind in the university. In 2000, she endowed the Amy Ross Scholarship in LGBT Health Studies. In 2008, she was elected to the USC Alumni Association’s Board of Governors, and in 2015, she became the first out LGBTQ+ person elected to the USC Board of Trustees.
Amy’s partner of more than 30 years is UCLA distinguished psychology professor Connie Hammen. Although Connie is an internationally recognized researcher in the psychopathology of mood disorders, Amy jokes that her greatest ability is putting up with Amy herself.
Amy Ross has humor, warmth, and a steely determination to get things done for the good of humanity. When Covid-19 struck in March 2020, OUTWORDS had to figure out how to conduct virtual interviews. Ever the rational, objective scientist, Amy agreed to be our guinea pig. We are forever grateful for this, and for her decades of vigorous activism on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community.