actor black history LGBTQIA+

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox is an American emmy-nominated actress and the first trans woman of colour to have a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show. She is an advocate for the transgender community and was honored by GLAAD with its Stephen F. Kolzak Award for her work.

Cox was born in 1984 in Mobile, Alabama and raised by her mother, Gloria who worked as a teacher. From the third grade Cox attended tap and jazz dance classes and, as she been born biologically male she was bullied as it was thought of as ‘feminine’, the bullying, coupled with the fact that she had developed feelings for male classmates lead to a suicide attempt at the age of 11. Cox attended the Alabama School of Fine Arts, she started out studying creative writing before switching to dance. Cox then studied for two years at Indiana University in Bloomington, after this she transferred to Marymount Manhattan College in New York City where she studied acting.

In 2008 Cox appeared in her first TV role in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, she then became one of the contestants on the reality series I Want to Work for Diddy, becoming the first trans woman of colour to appear on an American reality television program. VHI then approached her for show ideas and she helped to create the makeover television series TRANSform Me, becoming the first African-American transgender person to produce and star in her own TV show. Both of these shows were nominated for GLAAD media awards.

In 2013 Cox began her role as Sophia Burset in Orange is the New Black. Her character is an imprisoned trans woman who fights for appropriate hormone treatments and her relationship with her son. The show has received praise for its diverse characters and honest depictions of sexuality and gender expression. Her role has given her a platform to speak on the rights of trans people and her character has provided trans people will a real representation of people like them and shows real life experiences for them to identify with. In 2014 Cox became the the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy. She was nominated in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. In the same year, she was the first first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine.

Cox is a trans-rights advocate, she speaks and writes about transgender rights and current affairs in a variety of media outlets, including the Huffington Post where she has her own column. In 2014 she joined the fight against a Phoenix, Arizona law which allows police to arrest anyone suspected of “manifesting prostitution” which unfairly targets transgender women of colour. Later that year, Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word premiered on MTV and Logo simultaneously. It was an hour-long documentary executive-produced and narrated by Cox and followed the lives of several trans youth. She has produced a documentary titled ‘Free CeCe’ to help bring awareness and visibility to the case of CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman who was controversially sentenced to 41 months in prison for second degree manslaughter after allegedly defending herself against a racist and transphobic attack. It is slated for a 2016 release.

In 2014, Cox appeared on Katie Couric’s syndicated show, Katie with trans woman Carmen Carrera. After Couric’s ignorance in referring to transgender people as “transgenders” and asking intimate questions. Cox responded by stating that asking such things objectifies trans people. She highlighted the fact that it is far more important to talk about the fact that trans people are often disproportionate targets of violence and discrimination with an unemployment rate of four times the national average and there is an incredibly high homicide rate among trans women.

Cox has been the recipient for numerous awards including the Dorian Rising Star Award for her work in Orange is the New Black, the Courage Award from the Anti-Violence Project, The Community Leader Award from the LGBT Center of New York City and has been named one of the Top 50 Trans Icons by the Huffington Post. She is a trailblazer for the transgender community and her impact and prominence in the media has led to a growing conversation about transgender people, especially women and how it intersects with one’s race and identity. In 2015 she became the first openly transgender person to have a wax figure of herself at Madame Tussauds.

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