Transgender actress, activist Laverne Cox speaks at ASU

Transgender actress and activist Laverne Cox walked onstage at Wells Fargo Arena to a crowd of cheering supporters, telling a community of ASU students, faculty and community members about her experiences as a transgender woman. 

“I stand before you this evening a proud, African-American transgender woman,” Cox said. “I stand before you an artist, an actress, a sister and a daughter, and I believe it’s important that we name the various intersecting components of my multiple identities because I’m not just one thing and neither are you.”

The speaking event was presented by Tempe Undergraduate Student Government in partnership with the Council of Coalitions, as a part of Pride Week at ASU. The event raised over $4,000, all of which will be donated to the Phoenix Pride LGBT Center

Tempe USG President Cassidy Possehl introduced Cox to the crowd of cheering supporters, praising them for welcoming and embracing the LGBTQ community. 

“I am so appreciative of all of the work that has gone into this event to bring forward such a powerful message to Arizona State University,” Possehl said. “I am beyond grateful that here at ASU, we have a community that is not just accepting, but ecstatic to warmly welcome (Cox).”

Tempe USG passed a bill paving the way for gender-neutral bathroom and housing facilities on campus Tuesday, opening the door to a greater amount of acceptance and understanding for students and community members who fall outside the typical gender binary. 

Cox has a starring role in the hit Netflix television show "Orange Is The New Black" as Sophia Burset, an incarcerated transgender woman, and is the first woman to produce and star in her own show, "TRANSform Me." She is the first openly transgender woman to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in the acting category. In June of 2014, Cox also became the first openly transgender woman to appear on the cover of Time Magazine. 

Cox said she believes her multiple identities, being an African-American transgender woman, led to the extreme oppression and discrimination she experienced while growing up in Mobile, Alabama, before moving to New York City in her adult years. 

“I believe it’s important to claim the various intersecting components and multiple identities with pride in public,” Cox said. 

Cox said one of the biggest obstacles facing the transgender community are negative points of view.  

“One of the biggest obstacles facing the transgender community are points of view which disendow our identities, points of view that suggest no matter what we do, we are always and only the gender we were assigned at birth, points of view that suggest that no matter what kind you are, you will never be a woman,” Cox said. “Yet, ain’t I a woman?”

Sixty-four percent of transgender individuals will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. This was just one of the many startling statistics mentioned by Cox throughout her speech. Another statistic, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, is the homicide rate of the LGBTQ community is the highest over transgendered women.

These statistics, highlighted by Cox and supported by her multiple experiences facing discrimination throughout her childhood and into her adult years, showcase the many plights of transgendered individuals. 

“It is a state of emergency for far too many trans people across this nation,” Cox said. “As Dr. Cornel West reminds us: ‘Justice is what love looks like in public.’”

Shay Kak, special events director for Tempe USG, said she invited Cox to speak after coming across her many other speaking events. 

“I was stunned and in awe of how wonderful of a speech she made,” Kak said. “She spoke about how she struggled through life and how she came from all those struggles to be who she is now.”

Nursing freshman Meghan Hiryak said watching Cox speak inspired her to create change in her own community. 

"It was so empowering to see someone who not only is transgender, but African-American and a woman, advocating for those communities and having such an incredible impact on mainstream culture," Hiryak said. "As someone who's passionate about human rights, she was able to touch on so many things that resonated with me and my interests."

CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, the amount of money raised by the event was incorrectly stated. This version has been updated with the correct information.

Reach the reporter at Jlsuerth@asu.edu or follow @SuerthJessica on Twitter.

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