Just a year after Time magazine named Laverne Cox the fourth most influential character on television, the brilliantly talented star of Netflix’s television series “Orange is the New Black” sat down with the magazine to discuss the Transgender Movement.

“We live in an uncertain world and we want to believe that what a man is and what a woman is – I know that,” Cox said. “And people don’t want to critically interrogate the world around them. Whenever I’m afraid of something or I’m threatened by something, it’s because it brings up some sort of insecurity in me. I think the reality is that most of us are insecure about our genders. They think, ‘Okay, if there’s this trans person over here, then what does that make me?’ We want to just coast along in a belief system that makes us feel secure, because we are a culture, as Brene Brown would say, that is intolerant to vulnerability.”

On “Orange is the New Black,” Cox plays the role of Sophia Burset, a Litchfield Prison inmate doing time for credit card fraud, the fallacious transactions used for multiple gender- affirming surgeries. The show emphasizes the strained relationship that Sophia, formerly “Mark,” has with her son, the strong support that comes from her wife, and the interesting social dynamic that Sophia’s transgender nature implements in the prison.

This Meliora Weekend, Cox will be traveling 140 miles east from Litchfield to Rochester to speak to UR students about modern diversity and tolerance. Cox will focus on the struggles of being a gender minority and her path to success.

As a child from Mobile, AL,  Cox faced bullying on account of her gender identity. “I was eight years old and I was just convinced that I was a girl,” Cox recalled. “The therapist told my mom and she yelled at me that boys are this way and girls are this way. And it was just this big thing. And I again internalized a lot of shame about the way I was thinking about myself and about who I was.” After a long childhood battle with the social acceptance of her gender, she finally decided who she really was: Laverne.

Angela Clark-Taylor, Program Manager of The Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender & Women’s Studies, an instructor of a class called “LGBTQ Issues in Education and Human Development,” and a sponsor of Cox’s visit, discussed her excitement for the event schedule for Mel Weekend. “This is a great event and I’m really happy it’s happening,” she said. “After I saw Laverne Cox speak at Hamilton College, I proposed we bring her to Rochester

I worked with many departments here and Laverne Cox’s representation. People were really impressed with ‘Orange is the New Black’ and some of the interviews she had given. It kind of seemed like a no-brainer.

“[At Hamilton] she was wonderful. I was really impressed by the way she bridged class, gender, and race. She discussed her personal experience and her experience as an actress. It incorporated personal, political, and intellectual ideas. I feel like that’s really rare. I was so impressed.”

Clark-Taylor went on to discuss the importance of hosting diversity events during Mel weekend. “A lot of the alum of color, women, and LGBTQ individuals are not sure what there is for them when they come back and how much has changed or not changed on campus. We kept trying to think of different things to put together.

“Cox’s presentation is a culmination of many different things happening, including LGBTQI awareness month and policies for student, faculty, and staff health insurance facilitated by John Cullen of the Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership. I’m so happy everyone is excited. It took four or five years to organize this kind of event, and it’s an indication of where we can go in the future.”

Clint Cantwell, a senior Psychology and American Sign Language double major and an alum of the Pride Network, is excited for Cox’s guest appearance. “I can personally say I am super excited and thrilled,” Cantwell said. “Not only do I love her on ‘Orange is the New Black’ (duh!), but I see her as a new LGBTQ icon and trans icon specifically.”

Cantwell hopes to speak with Cox about “awareness to trans issues and how those issues relate to women of color, but also to the whole idea of gender as a social construction.” He is worried, however, that she was chosen to speak at UR not for the issues that she stands for, but for her performance in “Orange is the New Black.”

Whether you’re a fan of the hit series or not, UR students can all appreciate Cox’s presence at UR and hope to be impacted by her powerful story of success.

Kaplan is a member of the class of 2018.



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