Actress and activist Laverne Cox advocates transgender label for census
By Mayeesa Mitchell
For The Chronicle
Laverne Cox, best known for her role as Sophia Berset on “Orange Is The New Black,” spoke Monday night, Oct. 5, to a crowded Wait Chapel at Wake Forrest University (WFU).
“I believe it’s important to claim the various intersected components of my multiple identities with pride in public because I’ve not always been able to do that,” said Cox when she first addressed the audience.
During her speech, Cox used personal stories from her journey to becoming her true self while relating back to statistics that speak to the death rate of and the lack of support for people who identify as gay lesbian bisexual transgender and queer (LGBTQ).
Cox holds many accolades, including being the first transgendered woman nominated for an Emmy. She uses her platform as a prominent actress to promote LGBTQ issues with emphasis placed on issues concerning transgender people of color.
“I’ve never seen ‘Orange Is The New Black,’” said Anita Patel. “I have respect for her, not because she’s a character on a show but because I’m interested in what she has to say.”
Patel, a junior at Wake Forrest University , sat with her friends, Regina Murphy, Katie Freudenburg and Janae Shaheed , while excitedly waiting for actress and activist Laverne Cox to take the stage at WFU’s Wait Chapel.
The Chapel, which holds 2,200 people, was nearly filled to capacity as students, faculty, staff and community members gathered to hear Cox deliver a keynote address sponsored by WFU’s LGBTQ Center, Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Student Union, the Student Activities Fund, the Women’s Center, the University Theatre department, the Documentary Filmmaking Program and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.
“As an African-American transgender woman, she can speak to intersectional experiences,” said Kayla Lisbenby, program coordinator at WFU’s LGBTQ Center, when asked why it was important to bring Cox to campus. “She’s attracting different audiences and using her platform to speak on important issues.”
Jade Boston, an African-American transgender woman from Winston-Salem, was easily able to relate to Cox’s journey.
“It is inspiring to have someone as high profile as Laverne Cox represent our community,” said Boston. “It’s hard to meet people you can relate to.
Throughout her address, Cox expressed the need to count transgender people in the census and to change policy with the goal of protecting and supporting transgendered people.
Before allowing members of the audience to ask questions, Cox ended her speech with a call to action, asking the audience to go out and have difficult conversations across differences and to create safe spaces with the goal of having a better understanding of who the other person is, and ultimately who you are.
Derrick Boone, a professor of 19 years in WFU’s School of Business, agreed with Cox’s message of acceptance and support.
He said, “Our job is to educate the whole person and open students to difference points of view.”
Others who traveled from area schools like Winston Salem State University and Salem College to hear Cox speak were not disappointed.
Ayana Shiggs who traveled with her friend Myesha Oliver and two resident coordinators from Salem College, summed up the experience of hearing Cox speak.
“It was enough to be there,” she said.