On Tuesday night, Laverne Cox spoke to more than 1,000 audience members in the HUB Ballroom. Known for her role on the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” Cox spoke about her experience as an African-American transgender woman.
During the speech, sponsored by ASUW A&E, the Queer Student Commission, the Q Center, and the UW’s Queer People of Color Alliance, Cox spoke about her journey of discovering and embracing her identity. She shared stories about her experiences with family members, therapists, the media, and others with whom she has discussed her gender identity throughout her life.
After facing negative reactions from her mother, her classmates, and her church, Cox said art became a way to express her ideas. Her discovery of dance and creative writing as a child led to a lifelong love for performance.
“I didn’t feel safe at school, I didn’t feel safe at home, but one place where I did feel safe was in my imagination,” Cox said.
Cox also addressed important issues faced by marginalized groups. She shared many alarming statistics about the homicide and suicide rates among LBGTQIA+ people, including one that states seven African American transgender women were killed within the first eight weeks of 2015.
“Black lives matter, trans lives matter, and black-trans lives matter,” she said.
Carmen Borja, a member of ASUW, said Cox has helped the general public become more aware of issues surrounding gender identity and sexuality.
“She’s very influential in the face of the media, especially with topics that people feel uncomfortable talking about,” Borja said. “What she says here can definitely influence a lot of people.”
Varsha Govindaraju, ASUW Director of Diversity Efforts, stressed the importance of educating the community about gender and sexuality.
“Some people have probably never heard of the word ‘trans’ before, or transgender issues, or have really thought critically about gender binary concepts,” she said.
Govindaraju said Cox’s presence on a popular TV show has inspired viewers to look critically at their own perceptions of gender.
Cox urged the audience to challenge society’s binary perception of gender and sexuality, calling for an increased willingness to discuss differences.
“Go out and have those difficult conversations across difference,” Cox said. “Create safe space. Take risks, and have those conversations with a lot of love and empathy. Remember, empathy is the antidote to shame.”
Reach reporter Katie Anastas