Laverne Cox speaks at Vanderbilt October 16

Laverne Cox was a breakout star long before she became one of the buzzed about characters on Netflix’s hit show Orange is the New Black (OITNB). After a couple guest roles on ­Law & Order/Law & Order: SVU, Cox gave audiences a double dose of reality. First, as a contestant on the 2008 VH1 reality show I Want to Work for Diddy and then as the first trans* person of color to produce and star in her own reality show, VH1’s ­TRANSform Me, both of which were nominated for GLAAD Media Awards. Cox also starred in the 2011 dramedy Musical Chairs directed by Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan).

But it is Cox’s role as trans* inmate Sophia Burset on OITNB that has thrust not only the Alabama native back into the spotlight but perhaps trans* issues as well—something Cox is quick to point out happened several years ago. “It is funny because about six years ago, Candis Cayne had, for me, a watershed moment on Dirty, Sexy, Money in which she became the first trans woman to have a recurring role in a primetime series and that moment was such a huge inspiration for me,” says Cox. “I really believe I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her and for that show just deciding to cast a trans* woman to play that part . . . [but] you know, six years later, we’re talking glass ceilings and watershed moments again.  So I’m a little bit leery about having those conversations until I see some real proof of that, but what I’m excited about is how people are connecting with Sophia and really being moved by her story and moved by the show.”

In addition to acting, Cox has become a vocal advocate for trans* issues, recognizing the importance of positive trans* visibility. “I think everyone needs to feel a sense of connection, a sense of belonging,” says Cox. “And that happens interpersonally, but I think it also needs to happen in our representations in mainstream media so that when we see ourselves up on the screen and we see our stories, we feel less alone, we feel – we feel less invisible because I think for trans folks so often there’s—we are sort of overseen, but underrepresented, you know, in a lot of ways. We hear about trans* folks that are victims of violence or as, you know, criminals or something like that and we don’t really get to see the reality and the humanity and the diversity of trans experience. So I think it validates experience and I think it also teaches the world that there’s different people and that there are different lessons that we can learn from diversity.  I think having being around people who are different from us teaches us wonderful lessons if we choose to listen to those lessons.”

Nashville will get a chance to hear those lessons when Cox makes an appearance as the featured speaker for Vanderbilt University’s Office of LGBTQI Life’s 2013 National Coming Out Week Celebration. In her speech Ain’t I a Woman: My Journey into Womanhood, the actress/activist explores how the intersections of race, class and gender uniquely affect the lives of trans* women of color.

Laverne Cox will speak at Vanderbilt University on October 16 at 7:00 p.m. Event is free and open to the public. RSVP for the event here. Other events include: Film Screening: My Life in Pink (October 15)  and the Vanderbilt University Lambda Association’s So You Think You Can Drag with RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Jujubee (October 17). For more details, click here.



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