Transgender activist Laverne Cox featured in speaker series


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Laverne Cox speaks on April 24 at Finch fieldhouse.

Transgender rights activist and "Orange is the New Black" star Laverne Cox led a discussion on her career and life as a transgender woman at the Central Michigan University Speaker Series.

Cox spoke at an event sponsored by Program Board, the Student Government Association, the Leadership Institute, the Office of LGBTQ Services and the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences on April 24 in Finch Fieldhouse. 

The goal of the Speaker Series Committee is to bring "a diverse group of speakers to educate, entertain and inspire the campus and community.”

Hundreds of students, faculty and guests gave Cox a standing ovation when she stepped on stage. 

Cox discussed transgender issues, her experiences with catcalling, the rise of her career and her transition to becoming a woman. 

Growing up, Cox said she was discriminated against by her classmates for being an African-American and for having feminine qualities.

“Before I knew anything about myself, I knew I was black,” Cox said. “From preschool up until high school, I was bullied practically every single day. I was called names by the other kids. I was taunted and I was often chased home by groups of kids who wanted to beat me up.”

Cox grew up in Alabama, where she said she was a victim of a “tremendous amount of verbal and physical violence.”

In the third grade, administrators at Cox’s elementary school asked her what the difference is between a boy and a girl. She responded: “There is no difference.”

The school insisted that Cox receive therapy. Once her therapist suggested testosterone injections, her mother ended the sessions. 

Cox also discussed the support she received from the New York club scene in the 1990s.

She said clubs would give her special treatment for being open about her non-conformed gender. She arrived at “mega clubs” wearing feminine clothes and dramatic makeup. 

During this period, Cox met drag queens and other transgender people who gave her the encouragement and means to begin her procedural transition several years later, she said.

East Lansing freshman Stephanie Lingo said she attended the event to have a good time and to support her transgender friends.

“I think it’s very important for people to have someone as important as her to come in and talk about her story and inspire people,” Lingo said.

Mount Pleasant senior Mya Gilmore and Lansing junior Taylor Coe attended the event to complete an assignment for their Intergroup Dialogue Facilitation class.

“We are learning about advocacy, and LGBT advocacy is what we've been talking about most recently,” Coe said. “There is definitely value in being educated in issues you wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to.”

Gilmore said she saw the event as an opportunity to “open eyes” and expand the campus’s understanding of the transgender community.

“When you learn about people’s personal stories it creates empathy,” Gilmore said.

Throughout her presentation, Cox addressed hate crimes, suicide and abuse suffered by transgender people.

“Transgender people are under attack in this country,” Cox said. “As Dr. Cornel West reminds us, ‘Justice is what love looks like in public,’ and trans and non-gender conforming people could use some justice and love today.”

After speaking, Cox answered questions from the audience.

One of the questions was about the Gender and Sexuality Center that Central Michigan Action has advocated for throughout the semester.

Saginaw sophomore Gio Roses asked: “What is your opinion on schools such as Central Michigan University being one of the three universities in our conference to not have an empowerment center (to fight against) things such as anti-feminism, toxic masculinity and to give (support) to sexual assault (victims)?”

Cox urged Roses to continue his advocacy for the safe space and hopes he has “friends to join (him) in his fight and to organize, resist and be vocal.”

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About Samantha Shriber

Samantha Shriber is a staff reporter at Central Michigan Life and is a Saint Clair Shores ...

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