World Pride being held in Toronto this year meant that aside from the street parties and festivities, panels for LGBTQ advocacy are also being held to promote awareness. On June 25, Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black) arrived at TIFF to join GLADD National Spokesperson and host Wilson Cruz (My So-Called Life) in a conversation about her childhood, her bodies of work, and the importance of transgender advocacy.
Cruz opens up the conversation by asking Cox about growing up in Mobile, Alabama. Cox describes the experience as traumatic, and how others would often run up and attack her on the street. She says that the experience is comparable to what happens now when people would run up to her on the street because they recognize her, and that it’s a reflection of her PTSD. Cox continued to tell stories about herself, as well as what it felt like growing up with her twin brother (who played Cox’s pre-transition self on Orange). She says that she often felt that the bullying was her own fault, and didn’t find a safe space to express herself until she moved to Manhattan for college.
Cruz then shifts the conversation into Cox’s filmography, starting with the reality show I Want to Work for Diddy. Despite it being her first big role in the entertainment industry, Cox recalls the fact that she told the producers exactly what she wanted for fear of being exploited, especially because she knew she was inadvertently representing the entire trans community. This role eventually led to Cox’s own reality series TRANSform Me, making her the first African-American trans woman to produce and star in her own show. Clips of Cox’s other acting work were shown, including Carla, Musical Chairs, and – to much applause – Orange is the New Black. Cox points out that despite many of her parts being portrayals of the stereotypical sex worker, the sex industry is the one place many transgender women found empowerment and self-employment.
Cox then discusses transgender advocacy and the struggles that trans people experience, including the murder of trans woman Islan Nettles, and the unfair prison sentence of trans woman CeCe McDonald. Cox’s new documentary project is based on the latter, and explores McDonald’s arrest, trial, and sentence for the fatal stabbing a man on account of self defense. Cox says, “No one’s life should be in danger for being who they are,” and that for many trans people “it’s a state of emergency”.
Cox is currently planning to publish a memoir in 2015. Her documentary “Free CeCe” is expected to be released in late 2015 or early 2016, and more details can be found on freececedocumentary.net. And of course, you can currently catch Cox as Sophia Burset on the hit show Orange is the New Black available on Netflix.