With a message of love, Emmy-nominated actor and transgender rights activist Laverne Cox spoke to the Boulder community in CU Boulder’s Macky Auditorium Wednesday night.
CU’s Distinguished Speakers Board and Cultural Events Board hosted the event, which occurred at the same time alt-right figurehead and Brietbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos spoke across campus. As a face of the alt-right, a movement described as a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism, Yiannopoulos has used the college stage across the United States to publicly shame the transgender community.
Planning boards said Cox’s event was not planned or intended as an alternative event to Yiannopoulos’, but Cox chose Wednesday out of a handful of dates.
Cox became the first trans woman to appear on the cover of TIME magazine, was named as one of Glamour magazine’s 2014 women of the year and one of the Huffington Post’s 50 Transgender Icons in 2012. In 2014, she became the first openly transgender actor to be nominated for an Emmy. During her event at CU, she spoke about self-respect and love for others.
Cox’s talk, titled “Ain’t I a Woman,” was inspired by abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth’s speech delivered in 1851 at the Women’s Convention in Ohio. In the same way that Truth wasn’t considered a “real woman” because she was African-American, Cox wasn’t seen as a “real woman” because she wasn’t born with female body parts.
While her success on the screen has given her a voice to advocate for LGBT and trans rights, growing up Mobile, Alabama, Cox was bullied in school because of the way she expressed her gender. In her speech, she recounted a memory in which her mother received a call from a teacher saying that if Cox didn’t receive therapy, then she would end up in New Orleans dressed in drag. Her mother’s negative reaction was just the beginning of Cox’s struggle with her gender identity.
“Yes, I got bullied in school, but look at me now,” Cox said.
Throughout the talk, Cox used Brene Brown’s research on shame to show how peoples’ experiences with shame can shape the way they perceive themselves. Cox said that hate speech, violence and discrimination add to a person’s shame. In her past, Cox attempted suicide when she felt frustrated by her gender identity and sexual orientation.
According to research by the UCLA School of Law, 46 percent of trans men and 42 percent of trans women attempt suicide, compared with 4.6 percent of the general population.
Cox noted that 50 bills in state legislatures in 2016 were introduced to curtail transgender people’s rights to do things like use the bathroom they feel corresponds with their gender identity. She urged the audience to call their representatives to voice their opinions on the issue.
“I feel we have an empathy deficit in the country … I really believe that so much of the work that we have to do is to create empathy,” Cox said.
Cox quoted activist and philosopher Cornel West early in her speech.
“Justice is what love looks like in public,” she said.
Contact CU Independent News Staff Writer Kristin Oh at email@example.com