Her journey to find herself

Photo credit:  Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications
Laverne Cox also found mission of advocacy

Laverne Cox is an actress, producer, transgender woman – and a star in the new wave of internet-based television. And, she is one passionate advocate for the LGBTQIA community.

Cox, who portrays Sophia Burset, a transgender character in the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black,” recently shared her story as the Pride Lecture keynote speaker at “Ain’t I a Woman: My Journey to Womanhood” at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

She spoke about her journey to becoming a transgender woman and the support she now has, particularly from her mother, as well as the support she would like for the transgender community.

During one of their recent conversations, Cox said her mother apologized for not protecting her from bullies as she was growing up. She “didn’t know how, she didn’t know what to do.”

“She loves me, supports me and she’s proud of me,” said Cox. “She is now my biggest advocate. She sends out email blasts to let her friends know when I make TV appearances.”

“Cox’s presence at UMKC not only engaged her fans through her powerful narrative, but she touched the audience with her reminder that what the LGBTQIA community needs most is love,” said Jonathan T. Pryor, M.Ed., coordinator, UMKC LGBTQIA Programs and Services.

In 2013, Cox was named one of the most influential transgender people in America in the “Trans 100,” as well as one of the top 50 icons by the Huffington Post. Committed to serving as an advocate, Cox lends her voice to the cause of transgender visibility and equality.

Cox said that she now has pride where she once had shame. And, in her role as Sophia, she plays an incarcerated transgender woman hairstylist, which provides a sense of pride – and progress – for the “trans” community.

“I am a proud African American transgender woman. Once I moved to New York in the ‘90s and found people like me – like Tina Sparkles who served as a role model for me – I began to embrace my identity,” said Cox.

She began her transition as a transgender woman and thought, like in the movies, she could blend into society as a woman. It did not work exactly like that, and she and so many others experienced street harassment. Because of the harassment and the violence that often accompanies it, Cox became the outspoken advocate that she is today.

“Laverne brings a much needed voice to our community speaking from the intersecting identities as a transgender woman of color, and her story reminds us of the struggles our LGBTQIA people of color experience, who accounted for 73% of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims in 2012 (National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs),” said Pryor.

“Our culture accepts the violence that is carried out against the LGBTQIA community,” said Cox. “We need to create a safe space where they don’t police our culture, and we need policies to improve the lives of transgender individuals.”

The U. S. Senate did just that when it advanced a bill that would ban workplace discrimination against gay and transgender people recently – a sign of progress that Cox referenced and one she hopes becomes law.

One of Cox’s favorite quotes by Cornel West sums up her message:  “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”



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