Almost 1,100 people cheered, stomped their feet and gave standing ovations to Emmy-nominated Laverne Cox, who spoke to students May 6 at the Titan Gym.
Associated Students Inc. sponsored the visit of the speaker, transgender advocate and star of the Netflix hit “Orange is the New Black,” who shared her own experience to encourage those in attendance to move beyond gender expectations.
Cox cited statistics from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence that show that homicide rates in the LGBTQ community is highest among transgender women, especially transgender women of color. She also shared results from a study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality that show 78 percent of students K-12 who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming have experienced harassment and bullying.
“It is a state of emergency for far too many people across this nation,” said Cox.
When Cox was in third grade, an instant fascination with a hand-held paper fan, put to good use, led to her teacher calling her mother. She ended up in a therapist’s office, who asked her if she knew the difference between a boy and a girl. In what she calls a third grader’s “infinite wisdom,” Cox replied, “There is no difference.”
Cox, who grew up in Alabama with a single mother and a twin brother, spoke to a rapt audience of an early life of constant bullying — “When I got off the bus, I would have to really start running, every single day, or else I would be beaten up that day” — as well as feelings of shame about who she was and a suicide attempt at the age of 11.
“I didn’t feel really safe at school, and I didn’t feel really safe at home, but where I really felt safe was in my imagination,” explained Cox, who also commented on the tough, thoughtful questions asked by Cal State Fullerton students.
Jasmine Lowe, who is pursuing a master’s degree in communications, was one of the attendees. “I believe it is so important for incredible people, such as Ms. Laverne Cox, to be a positive and visible force for those in the minority. A lot of what we see in mainstream media only represents a very narrow view of the population,” she said.
People like Laverne Cox are crucial for individuals in the minority to succeed, Lowe added. “Seeing one person stand up and make a change only creates more people to stand up as well, which makes the world one step closer toward a more positive and just society.”
Cox also shared some words of wisdom on video. See more on Cox’s visit on Storify. Photos of the event are also available.