Laverne Cox concludes speaking tour at Union

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Laverne Cox speaks in Memorial Chapel on May 25 at 7 p.m. (Concordiensis | Sarah Chang)

Laverne Cox, a noted LGBT advocate and cast member of the hit Netflix show “Orange is the New Black,” delivered her speech “Ain’t I a Woman: My Journey to Womanhood” to a packed Memorial Chapel on Monday, May 25. Her talk, named after the feminist Sojourner Truth’s famous speech, addressed her experiences as a transgender woman of color.

Monday’s talk was Cox’s last speech on her “Ain’t I a Woman” college tour, and as she stepped on stage, she was immediately met with applause. The speech, which lasted roughly an hour, weaved different stories from her childhood, college years and recent successes together.

She discussed her childhood encounters with bullies in Alabama, a historically conservative and racially segregated state. “I’d get off the bus and I’d immediately have to start running,” she recalled.

She faced opposition and judgment from students and teachers alike. She explained that she blamed herself, wondering why she was different. Her deep sense of shame led her to attempt suicide at age 11. She explained that this is not uncommon in the transgender community, stating that 41 percent of trans-women admit to having attempted suicide in their lifetimes.

Throughout the rest of her speech, she discussed her journey to self-acceptance, crediting other trans-women she had met in NYC, Renee Brown and, eventually, her mother for helping her learn how to be herself and accept herself.

Cox made it clear that she faces discrimination almost every day. She not only discussed the difficulties of being a trans-woman, but also the struggles of being a trans-woman of color. She said that we must move toward becoming a nation that accepts everyone, regardless of skin color, gender identity or sexual orientation.

The well-attended event attracted students for a variety of reasons. Jenna Salisbury ’18 stated that she attended “because Laverne Cox is prolific in the LGBTQIA community and speaks up for marginalized groups of people,” which Salisbury finds admirable.

Brenden Coleman ’18 stated, “It is incredibly empowering to see such an enthusiastic, optimistic, and strong woman take pride in all aspects of her life, whether those aspects are positive or negative.”

The majority of people in the audience were women, as Sonia Sandoval ’16 pointed out in the question and answer portion of the talk. Sandoval commented that since the student population consists of nearly an equal number of males and females, the male population was greatly underrepresented. She went on to ask how to best to change this mentality on campus.

Cox responded by stating that patriarchy can deeply harm men and that one of her past boyfriends had to deeply examine what it meant to be a man in order to date her.

She stated that the best way to end the patriarchy is to spread the idea that patriarchy hurts everyone, and that trans-phobia extends from the preconceived idea of what men and women can and can’t be.

Amy Provost ’17 attended the talk, and was very impressed with the actress’ message. “I loved what Laverne Cox had to say. She brought to Union an inspiration to love one another and accept each other for who we are. I definitely see Laverne as a role model, because she is an example of someone who lives by what makes her truly happy.”

The actress, who recently became the first openly transgender woman to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine, has steadily gained popularity since 2013, the year “Orange is the New Black” was released on Netflix. She has since been nominated for an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress, named in Time’s “Top 100 Influential People” and won a Screen Actor’s Guild award for “Outstanding Performance in an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.”

Cox has become a strong advocate for the LGBT community. She has spoken all over the country.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I love love LOVED Laverne Cox on Monday. She was unafraid to speak out or water down her experiences, and her humor leaked through while still allowing the seriousness of her talk shine through.

    I do wish that Union students would treat their own trans and non-binary classmates with the same respect and acceptance as they did Cox. There are a handful of openly transgender and non-binary students here on campus that have been actively and purposefully misgendered by other students and, as Ms. Cox pointed out (with much applause in response), purposefully misgendering a trans individual is an act of violence.

    I have heard slurs yelled at or used in passing regarding Union’s transgender and non-binary students and was disappointed to see that merely because Cox is famous and “passes” in appearance that she garnered more respect than students in her position.

    Union needed this speech. I hope that Laverne Cox’s experiences and lessons will change the way that the majority of Union’s student body approaches gender fluidity and that out trans and non-binary students can enjoy a safe and welcoming environment here on campus.

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