“I stand before you this evening a proud, African American, transgender woman,” said “Orange is the New Black” star, Laverne Cox. “I believe it is important to proclaim the intersecting components of my multiple identities with pride and in public, because I have not always been able to do so.” Actress Laverne Cox utilized her flair as a performer to deliver a speech at ASU’s Wells Fargo Arena on April 8. During the event, “An Evening with Laverne Cox”, Cox discussed issues of gender, bullying, feminist theory, and her transformation from a little boy who loved to dance in Mobile, Ala., to a gender non-conforming college student in New York and finally into a transgender woman and award winning actress.
Whether they were merely fans of Cox’s work, seekers of more diverse LGBTQ events on ASU’s campus or even transgender themselves, ASU students and members of the community gathered to listen to Cox’s fiery stance for justice for all transgender and LGBTQ citizens. Cox’s speech focused on the flaws with the gender binary model that currently exists in society and how it causes many who do not identify with those gender roles to face shame, ridicule and even violence. She spoke of how she was bullied as a child simply for not acting “the way someone assigned male at birth was ‘supposed’ to act,” and later, how she was harassed on the streets of New York during her transition. Cox called these taunts “clear acts of violence,” byproducts of a society that conflates sex, orientation, and gender identity, a mistake that puts all youth, trans or not, at risk.
“I think if we are really serious about ending the bullying of our LGBTQ youth particularly, but all of our youth,” Cox said. “We have to begin to create spaces of gender self-determination for all of our youth,” With every declaration of her own womanhood, the crowd cheered and with every display of Cox’s defiant sass and humor, laughter and triumphant smiles burst forth from every face. Cox has become an icon in both the battle for more diversity in media as well as and a beacon of hope for transgender youth. “She is very important” said Naya Salazar, a film major at ASU. “She is a person of color, she is a trans woman. She is a great representation of diversity in the LGBT community.” Salazar explained that although ASU provides many opportunities for LGBT students, such as a Pride Week and various drag shows, the events often focus more on white, gay males. Cox, a woman of color, helped to provide diversity to the events on campus.
But for Westin James, a transgender student at ASU, Cox’s presence on campus marked the end of his current fears. James a transgender man, who was scheduled to receive his first prescription of testosterone the next day and had yet to tell his parents, for fear of being rejected. James remarked that is was truly eye opening and inspiring to see Cox speak so proudly about being transgender. “To see a public figure, to see how successful, how confident she is, it makes me feel better, like I can be supported on my journey,too,” James said.