By Elliot Owen
Bay Area Reporter
Laverne Cox, an actress who has made a name for herself in the LGBTQ community and beyond in recent months, will be speaking in San Francisco next week, where she’ll draw from her own story as an African American transwoman from a working class background to discuss how the intersections of race, class, and gender shape the life experiences of trans women of color.
Cox will be appearing at the Nourse Theater in an event sponsored by the California Institute of Integral Studies Wednesday, March 19. Her talk is entitled, “Ain’t I A Woman? My Journey to Womanhood with Laverne Cox.”
An Alabama native who was raised by a single mother, Cox is best known for her compelling role in the successful Netflix series Orange is the New Black, set to return for a second season this summer. Cox plays Sophia Burset, a transwoman incarcerated for credit card fraud and the prison’s hairdresser, a character Cox herself calls “beautifully complicated.”
Recognizing the opportunity to leverage her media visibility, Cox is in the midst of a college lecture tour that positions her own story as a backdrop to larger issues faced by the transgender community.
“I am telling my story through an intersectional lens,” Cox told the Bay Area Reporter in an email. “It’s essential that those who are most marginalized within the trans community have a voice to tell their stories. Working class, poor, and trans people of color are largely silenced; those are the folks we need to hear from the most because they experience multiple intersections of oppression.”
Cox moved to New York City to attend college and pursue an acting career and in 2008, became the first African American transwoman to appear on a reality television show: VH1’s I Want to Work for Diddy, which won the 2009 GLAAD media award for outstanding reality program, an honor that Cox accepted at the GLAAD ceremony on behalf of the show.
The following year, she became the first African American transwoman to produce and star in her own television program: VH1’s TRANSForm Me, a show documenting three transwomen as they give makeovers to female contestants. Cox has also made appearances on other TV shows and feature films including Musical Chairs, Bored to Death, and Law and Order: SVU.
Aside from being an actress, writer, and producer, Cox is also a transgender advocate and emerging pillar of the LGBTQ community. Earlier this year, she delivered a lauded inspirational speech to open the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change conference in Houston, the largest annual gathering of people committed to LGBTQ equality.
During the half-hour speech, she referenced her own experiences of being bullied and harassed, and feeling the shame and depression brought on by living in a transphobic culture. She paralleled those experiences to the status-quo reality of the broader transgender community, and called for justice and change. She concluded her speech emphasizing the importance of having conversations within the LGBTQ community “across differences” and “with love,” an ending met with a standing ovation.
Hoping to have a similar impact on her San Francisco audience, Cox will continue to share her story.
“I hope to be of service,” Cox told the B.A.R., “to get folks to maybe honk about some things they hadn’t before, and inspire them to take affirming actions in their lives and the lives of others. I also want to continue to love and support my trans siblings. I really believe loving trans people is a revolutionary act. It’s my hope that telling our stories more completely will liberate our souls and inspire us to challenge the systems that oppress us so we may gain access to life affirming resources – so we can truly thrive.”
Laverne Cox’s talk takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Nourse Theater, 275 Hayes Street. Tickets for the event range from $25 to $75 and can be purchased here.