Laverne Cox introduced herself to the Northeastern University community on Monday night as a proud African-American transgender woman, an artist, an award-winning actress, a sister, and a daughter of a single mother.
“I believe it is important to name the various intersecting components of my multiple identities in public and with pride because I have not always been able to do so,” Cox said in her address, titled “Ain’t I A Woman.”
Cox is best known for her role as Sophia Burset on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. At the 2014 Emmy Awards she was nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, becoming the first openly transgender person nominated for an Emmy in an acting category.
Despite a historic snowstorm barreling toward Boston, more than 200 people showed up to Blackman Auditorium to hear Cox share stories about her life and the adversity facing the transgender community.
“There is a state of emergency for far too many transgender people across this nation,” Cox said. “But as Dr. Cornel West reminds us, ‘Justice is what love looks like in public.’ Trans and gender nonconforming people could use some justice, some love today.”
NUPride, the Office of Student Affairs, and the University Scholars Program hosted Monday’s event, which was part of the 2015 Scholars Seminar on Leadership, Research, and Innovation.
As an LBGT advocate, Cox was named one of Out Magazine’s OUT100 and received the 2013 Courage Award from the Anti-Violence Project. She is also the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of Time.
In her opinion, one of the biggest obstacles facing the transgender community today is the perception among some that trans people will always be the gender they were assigned at birth. “And points of view that suggest no matter what I do I’ll never be a woman. Yet ain’t I a woman,” Cox said to resounding applause.
Born in Mobile, Alabama, Cox said she was bullied on a daily basis from kindergarten to high school. One of her saving graces was dancing, and she was ecstatic when her mother finally signed her up for dance class in the third grade.
She eventually made her way to New York City. Although she continued to deal with adversity and bullying there, Cox found solace in the city’s nightclubs, where her gender expression was seen as something to celebrate.
“It was a really wonderful thing because at that point my gender expression had been frowned upon,” Cox explained. “It was a really wonderful time for me.”
In a Q-and-A following the talk, Cox was asked what it was like to see her twin brother M Lamar play the pre-transitioning Sophie in an episode of Orange is the New Black.
“I would rather he played me pre-transition than anyone else,” Cox said. “I originally said I was going to do it, but (creator) Jenji Kohan and (director) Jodie Foster said I wasn’t butch enough. Go figure.”