Laverne Cox Is The Leader Our Community Needs: “Your Lives Matter, Your Stories Are Valuable”

25th Annual GLAAD Media Awards - Dinner and ShowConsider Laverne Cox one of the most visible and impactful trans role models of our time.

Her work in LGBT activism, her tireless effort in starting a productive conversation about issues facing the transgender community and her role as Sophia in Netflix’s breakout hit Orange Is the New Black have thrust her to the forefront of a new movement aiming to switch up the way we’ve historically seen gender and sexuality. She’s inspiring change in the most unlikely places, and she doesn’t plan on quitting anytime soon.

Fresh out of the GLAAD event that awarded her with the Stephen F. Kolzak award for her efforts in eliminating homophobia, and ahead of the undoubtedly busy summer before her, we sat down with Cox to talk about her continued activism, her take on trans progression in America, and what it means to be a true LGBT leader.

You’ve just received the Stephen F. Kolzak award— how do you feel to be joining the ranks of important advocates you’ve admired before now?

I was so deeply honored for me and for trans women of color everywhere who far too often have been told their lives and voices don’t matter. Your lives matter and your stories are valuable.

Your appearance with Carmen Carrera on Katie in January became controversial after you were both asked some pretty inappropriate questions. Couric later called the discussion it spawned a “teachable moment.” Do you think America is receptive to learning about transgender issues? Are the masses making any strides forward?

I think some are extremely open but they just don’t know anyone trans and don’t know how to have conversations with and about trans people. And I also think that often trans identities make people uncomfortable because they aren’t fully comfortable with themselves and don’t want to have some of their fundamental ideas about identity challenged. So it’s about knowing how to have the right conversations and being willing and open to have some of our fundamental ideas challenged so that we can truly have love and empathy for each other.

The discussion continued to gain national attention with Janet Mock’s appearances on Piers Morgan Live the following month. After seeing the public’s reaction to all three appearances, do you think trans issues are being discussed in a productive way?

Productive discussions are certainly happening and as we go forward having conversations about trans issues and issues of identity and difference in general with love and empathy and a willing to interrogate our own positions of privilege and our blind spots. But we have to do it with love and empathy least the conversations will devolve into what we see far too often in various culture wars that are far too often not productive at all.

Screen-Shot-2013-07-24-at-9.48.06-PMYour character on Orange Is the New Black is also a trans woman. Do you think there’s a certain benefit to casting trans women in trans roles, as opposed to cisgender men or women, as was the case in Dallas Buyers Club?

I have heard from so many trans folks saying that my character in Orange has given them a way to talk about themselves with their friends and family. Folks have transitioned because of this character that they km find themselves do relating to. Folks who aren’t trans find themselves relating to this character and the trans woman playing her. I believe that when we connect with people as people all of our misconceptions about people who are different from us can melt away. Those are the benefits for the audience. As an actor I want to be able to play a variety of characters as i think most actors want to and I would never suggest an actor shouldn’t have that opportunity because I want it.

Can you offer any hints about what we can expect from Sophia in the coming season?

No. [Laughs] I did get to do some things as an actor I have never gotten to do before and that’s exciting for me. I think the audience will get different shades of Sophia that they haven’t yet seen.

You’ll also be serving as the keynote speaker for San Diego Pride’s Spirit of Stonewall rally. What do you hope to inspire in young trans people through your career and advocacy work?

I want everyone to be inspired to be more of themselves and to ask themselves what they can do to make the world safer for themselves and others to live authentically. I want everyone to also think about how race, class, gender, sexuality and ability intersect to make the world less safe for far too many and to begin to imagine how we as individuals can undo those unsafe systems.

Below, watch a recently out Ellen Page award Laverne Cox with the Stephen F. Kolzak award:

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  • tardis

    Great interview!


    Ms. Cox has done many many many things for Trans rights and gay rights, she has my vote!

  • jayj150


  • Thedrdonna

    I love love LOVE that she is out there kicking butt and taking names for LGB and T folks! I couldn’t be happier to have her out there representing us.

  • DarkZephyr

    I’ not disputing this, I am just genuinely curious. What has Laverne Cox done for gay rights in addition to the work she has done for Trans* rights? Please understand that I am in NO way denying that she has, I am just very curious to know what she has done. I think its great when we *all* care about and work to help *each* aspect of the LGBT community regardless of our position in the alphabet soup.

  • DarkZephyr

    @jayj150: Handsome? Who’s “handsome”? Laverne? I happen to think she is exquisitely beautiful. “Handsome” is hot a description I would apply to someone so very feminine in appearance. She is ravishing, pretty, beautiful, lovely but “handsome” doesn’t seem to fit, as far as I am concerned.

  • DarkZephyr

    @DarkZephyr: not*

  • tdx3fan

    What I really get from the Couric thing is that Transgendereds want to bring us to the table, but then they want to say “my table, my rules.”

    You just don’t really get anyone to listen to your ideas if you start by deciding what you are willing to discuss. If you are proud of yourself then discuss everything openly and honestly. I don’t buy the reasoning that was used either. If you want to talk about other stuff than rush the genital and surgery topic and get on to the other stuff. It took her longer to confront the question than to dodge it.

    That has no bearing on her ability to be a Transgendered advocate. However, she is an advocate for Transgendereds not for LGBT, my guess is like most Transgendereds she could give a rats arse about the LGB part unless they aren’t specifically helping her cause.

    Also, I really love this “don’t label people” crap. Either there is nothing wrong with the label or there is everything wrong with it. When you start saying that label can’t be used, you just say you find something offensive about it, which you shouldn’t since there is nothing wrong with being transgendered.

  • Thedrdonna

    @DarkZephyr: Her main focus, to be sure, is on trans rights. However, there’s a lot of overlap there, as she explains: “Everyone has a stake in ending the stigma against trans identities, but gay people may have a more personal interest. When kids are bullied and called anti-gay slurs, it’s rarely because the victim seemed to be attracted to members of the same sex. It’s because the child did not conform to gender expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. The bullies might yell “gay,” but it’s about gender expression.”

    @tdx3fan: Asking about surgery is on the same level as asking gay activists about how they have sex. Just as being gay isn’t solely about the mechanics of homosexual intercourse, being trans isn’t solely about bottom surgery. And, given that 2/3 of trans folks (give or take) are LGB, I’d bet that most trans folk care at least as much as you do about LGB rights. It appears from the rest of your comment that you’ve already made up your mind about what to think of trans folks, though, so I won’t expand beyond that.

  • Tackle

    To those who ask can a trans person be a leader in the LGBTQ community, and do the T even belongs there. I say YES to both. Because there is a lot of overlap/interweave/parallel. And truth be told, trans people probably suffer more discrimination from gay men than gay men from trans people. A lot (not all) gay men’s objection to trans people being leaders, spokespersons or just have the T with the LGBQ has to do with esthetics. If someone is not (for the most part) a goodlooking young male, semi-buff white stud, some gay men will bitch, moan and cry foul and pretend it’s activism, when in fact, many times, they just don’t like the way trans people look. And what makes some gay men think that only a LGBQ can be a leader or spokesperson for the LGBQ people. Judy Shepard or any straight person who understands the history, culture: and has truth, passion, dedication, and fight, for LGBTQ rights, like Levern Cox, I welcome with open arms. And I know others will also.

  • jayj150

    @tdx3fan: And for that matter, what has this person or any other prominent trasn”woman” done for the feminist cause?. I find it interesting how transsexuals demand the support of LGB people and feminists, but are completely silent on issues not directly affecting them. Cox, like her pals Mock and Carrera, never have anything to say about same-sex marriage, or women’s reproductive rights, or violence against women(unless they’re trans”women”). In fact, MANY transpeople have been vocally opposed to the multiple recent legal victories of same-sex marriage.

    And the truth is it makes perfect sense. All transsexuals care about is ‘passing’. Being validated for the gender they think they are. They find empowerment in all the chauvinistic, patriarchal, homophobic societal rules that LGB activism and Feminism have fought against.
    While feminists and LGB activists have been saying for decades that it is OK not to conform to society’s gender expectations, that just because you’re a girl you don’t need to force yourself to be a bombshell, that just because you’re a boy it doesn’t mean you can’t have interests not typically associated with their gender, the trans approach is simply: well, this child likes ‘mermaids, dolls and pink things’ so obviously he can’t be a boy, let’s medically block his development so he can become a normal girl instead of a non-conforming man.

  • hex0

    I don’t hate transsexuals and I’m sure Laverne is a nice person but I do believe that trans should be fighting separately from gays. They attack us when we would rather focus on our own issues and expect us to put them first politically and do all the heavy lifting for their cause.

    We need to support our own kind first, trans would rather we had zero rights if it meant us passing laws to protect gays without “including” them. It is like the mormons demanding that black people should have accepted and legalised polygamy before they achieved equal civil rights.

  • Blackceo


    I’m not so sure I agree that trans should be separated but I hear your argument. However, I went to a training on working clinically with the LGBT population and the new acronym the presenter put up on the board was:
    Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Ally

    What the actual hell?!!!!! I always hate the fact that everything has to be labeled so are we doing a disservice by trying to appease everyone outside of plain old LGB?!! I don’t see transgender as having much to do with sexual orientation preference. That is more a biological thing as far as I’m concerned, but they are an ostracized group from even within the LGB part so I feel the need for them to remain a part of it. Its complicated but when the presenter put that up on the board I had the biggest WTF look on my face. Transgender and intersex are more biological as far as I’m concerned. I don’t even know what “Queer” means these days because apparently it has a different meaning than the old days when queer was also used to mean gay or lesbian. Questioning and Ally I also am scratching my head about.

  • Pax


    I hope the presenter didn’t say LGBTQQIAA was an acronym.

    There are three types of abbreviations.

    An acronym is formed with the first letter of each word in order to form a new word: AIDS, SCUBA, NATO, WASP, LASER, TASER, IKEA.
    You pronounce it as a word.

    Truncation comes from shortening words in order to abbreviate:
    Mon., Tues., Wed. Apr., Ave., St., trans.

    Initialism comes from using the first letters of each word, but it cannot be pronounced as a whole word — one says each letter separately: ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, UN, UK, USA, MRI, TV, LGBT.

  • Blackceo


    I’ve seen LGBT and all other letters referred to as initialism and as an acronym. Acronym was what I called it.

    Oh and I forgot to add P for Pansexual and I just read 2S for 2Spirit meaning LGBTQQPI2SAA. Come on now. This is some mess!!!

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