Laverne Cox visits UMD as part of Voices for Social Change

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Students and faculty gathered in the university’s Memorial Chapel Friday afternoon to hear Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox a deliver a speech as part of the Leadership and Community Service-Learning program’s Voices of Social Change dialogue series. The speech emphasized the importance of highlighting the various aspects of our identities rather than neglecting some for others.

“I stand before you today a proud African American transgender woman,” Cox started off her speech. After chronicling a history of physical violence against members of the LGBTQIA* community with statistics that included the largest number of homicides of transgendered people occured in 2015, Cox argued that what did the most harm was not even a physical act.

During the speech, named after a famously questioned quote from Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?” Cox told members of the audience that the most damaging thing to the transgender community are the points of views of others that disavow the very identities transgender people struggle to own.

Cox said that in addition to Sojourner Truth, she has been inspired by the likes of bell hooks and Judith Butler when attempting to come into her own identity. She referenced a line from Butler’s book Gender Trouble that says “one is not born a woman, but rather becomes one” to get across the point that gender identification is not something that is simply assigned.

Leaning on her experiences as a child, Cox suggested that we create spaces of gender self determination that would allow people to express their gender in whatever ways they feel comfortable.

Her argument for safe spaces came from a place of combatting shame, or “intensely painful belief that one is unworthy of belonging.”

In a question and answer forum following Cox’s speech, an undergraduate student at the university asked about navigating spaces where your circle of friends and family aren’t necessarily as inclusive as you are.

“You have to meet people where they are,” said Cox who encouraged that people take care of themselves as a priority above trying to ensure that other people are taking the same positive steps.

When asked about religion playing a role in her decision to advocate for LGBT rights, Cox said, “I really believe that I was divinely made and was put here for a purpose much bigger than myself…Jesus Christ did not judge, Jesus Christ loved.”