L is for Laverne Cox

“When a person calls a trans woman a man, it is an act of violence.”

When Orange is the New Black hit Netflix last year it was a break-out hit. One of the most complex characters on the show is Sophia Burset,a woman convicted for fraud. Portraying Burset is the actress Laverne Cox, the first trans woman of color to have a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show.

Cox was raised by a single mother in Alabama, and has a twin brother who helped form the character of Sophia Burset by playing her pre-transition on the show. During a speech at the University of Kentucky, Cox spoke about her youth and the reactions of the people that surrounded her:

“My third grade teacher called my mother and said, ‘Ms. Cox, your son is going to end up in New Orleans in a dress if we don’t get him into therapy.’ And wouldn’t you know, just last week I spoke at Tulane University, and I wore a LOVELY green and black dress.”

Since becoming a household name, Cox has toured the country and appeared on multiple talk shows. In an interview with transgender model, Carmen Carrera, Katie Couric asked the pair multiple times to talk about their genitalia in order to “educate” the people who were watching. Both women took offense to the extremely personal and invasive question and Cox shot back at Couric:

“I do feel there is a preoccupation with that. The preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people. And then we don’t get to really deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is that so often we are targets of violence.

We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average; if you are a trans person of color, that rate is four times the national average. The homicide rate is highest among trans women. If we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.”


Her efforts do not stop there. During the 2014 GLAAD awards, Cox was honored with the Stephen F. Kolzak award which is given to open LGBT* members who use media to promote equality for the community. During her acceptance speech, Cox told her audience:

“Each and every one of us has the capacity to be an oppressor. I want to encourage each and every one of us to interrogate how we might be an oppressor and how we might be able to become liberators for ourselves and for each other.”

Cox is not just an actress and trans rights activist, she is also a filmmaker. In the summer of 2011, CeCe McDonald was verbally assaulted with racist and transphobic slurs by a group of white adults. CeCe approached them and stated that the group of people she was with would not tolerate hate speech. In response, one of the woman smashed her glass into CeCe’s face and slashed completely through the tissue. A large fight occurred, leaving one of the attacking men fatally stabbed. CeCe was the only person arrested and was sent to a men’s jail. She was charged with second degree murder.

After Laverne Cox heard of this situation, she decided to make a documentary. Free CeCe will be a film that shows the violence facing the trans community, particularly for trans women of color. During CeCe’s time in prison, interviews were held with her and other members of the trans community.

As of January 2014, CeCe was released from jail and the documentary will follow her through her reintegration efforts. On the now expired indiegogo page for the film, Cox wrote:

“This film amplifies voices rarely heard in the media. Its goal is to empower and engage advocates in the trans community and educate everyone on the important issue of violence against trans women.”

You can still make donations to help fund Free CeCe by clicking on the link below:

Free CeCe

To read more about the struggles facing trans people check out our Fall Quarterly article:

The Life and Struggle of Trans People

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