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‘Trans is beautiful’: Laverne Cox speaks at UConn


     “Ain’t I a woman?” Laverne Cox said to the packed audience at her talk at the Jorgensen Theater on Wednesday night.

     And what a woman she is.  Cox is a transgender actress famous for her role as Sophia Burset, inmate and resident hairstylist at Litchfield Penitentiary, the fictional setting of the hit Netflix show Orange is the New Black.  Aside from this, Cox is a huge activist in the transgender community and a trailblazer for the LGBTQ community.

     Her talk, sponsored by the Rainbow Center, SUBOG and the Jorgensen, centered on what Cox has faced throughout her life being a transgender woman, as well as her work in trans advocacy.

     Emerson Loisel, member of the UConn Higher Education Student Affairs graduate program, started off the night by celebrating Cox as one of the most influential women of our time.” 

     He brought up one of her powerful quotes: “It is revolutionary for any trans person to be visible in a world that tells us we shouldn’t exist.”

Laverne Cox on the cover of Time Magazine

     Dr. Fleurette King, director of the Rainbow Center, followed Loisel by asking UConn students how Cox would feel if she was a student at UConn.

     “Would she feel safe and comfortable in shared spaces?” King asked.

     King’s question and Cox’s visit are especially poignant after recent events on UConn campus such as the UConn Speaks OUT campaign against LGBTQ hate speech that was a response to vandalism of a Student Union Art Gallery Exhibit entitled “Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus.”

     At her talk, Cox proved herself to not only be a talented and beautiful actress but also a well-read, intelligent individual. 

     Cox cited many important works and authors that helped her through her journey.

     “Justice is what love looks like in public,” she said, quoting Dr. Cornel West, a well-known activist.

     Cox called for justice for transgender people, discussing the many instances of violence against them and their disproportionately high rate of unemployment and incarceration.

     She focused on the story of Islan Nettles, a young transgender woman who was beaten to death in Harlem in August 2013.

     “If we are serious about helping LGBTQ individuals, we have to eliminate gender binary models,” she said, speaking of the strict male-female divide present in society.

Cox as Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black

     This divide was hard for Cox growing up, as she recalls being bullied from preschool through high school as a boy who “acted like a girl.”

     Cox recalled a time when a teacher called her mom, warning her that her son was “going to end up in New Orleans wearing a dress” if she did not put him in therapy.

     Constantly feeling shame, Cox attempted suicide as an early teenager.

     Things began to get better for her when she enrolled in the Alabama School of Fine Arts, where she majored in ballet.

     Cox came into her own when she attended Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, where she thrived in the city nightclub scene.   There, donning what she referred to as “Salvation Armani” clothes, she met many other trans and LGBTQ individuals that helped her begin her transition from a male to a female.

     These experiences helped shape Cox into the woman she is today.

     “Trans is beautiful,” she said.


Catch Laverne Cox in the new season of Orange is the New Black on Netflix, premiering June 12. 



Sarah is the Campus Correspondent for Her Campus UConn. She is a Communication and Journalism major at the University of Connecticut newly suffering from the travel bug after a summer in Spain and an obsession with all things UConn Husky Basketball.
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