WWS Blog

Laverne Cox Visits Princeton

Dec 4, 2015
Published by:
Isabella (Mizzi) Gomes '16

On Nov. 18, Laverne Cox, advocate and actress in the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” visited Princeton University to give a talk on transgender rights.

Cox’s talk at Princeton, “Ain’t I A Woman,” observed the University’s memorial ceremony for Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 22. This marks the University’s 14th consecutive year of hosting an event in commemoration of those who have been killed as a result of anti-transgender bigotry, hatred and violence.

The event was presented by the Carl A. Field’s Center, the LGBT Center and Princeton’s Women’s Center, with support from the Woodrow Wilson School, the Conversations on Identities Public Programming Series, the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students and the Lewis Center for the Arts. The talk, held in Richardson Auditorium of Alexander Hall, was followed by a conversation with Jill Dolan, Dean of the College and Director of Princeton’s Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Despite 2015 being a peak year in terms of transgender visibility, 2015 also hit a historic high with 22 reported transgender homicides, double the count of the previous year. Cox called this a “state of emergency.”

Cox not only highlighted the spike in physical violence against transgender people, but said that the violence starts with everyday street harassment, such as being harassed by strangers while walking outside or being kicked out of a bathroom. During the Q&A, a transgender student reflected upon her own experience with street harassment as being two fold — a combination of the sexual harassment experienced as a woman and “clocking” — the act of being publicly identified by a stranger to be transgender based on appearances. “But the danger with body scrutiny happens before the clocking,” Cox said. From her perspective, this danger exists as soon as a person is hyper-sexualized as a woman. The transgender movement inherently becomes a feminist issue.

“Laverne did a really good job of highlighting intersections – like being black, transgender and a woman,” said Divya Krishnan ’16. “Whether you’re passionate about women’s issues or black issues, it’s a good reminder to be inclusive because marginalized groups overlap.”

The issues perpetuating the violence experienced by other marginalized groups often overlap with those experienced by the transgender community. “We have to understand that violence from misogyny, patriarchy and transphobia is an economic issue like any other type of violence,” Cox said.

According to the National LGBTQ Task Force, a large percentage of black transgender people and Latino transgender people face bias when applying for medical care and housing, with more than a third of black and Latino transgenderpeople saying they have been refused a home or apartment. Challenging this existing culture that prejudices people of different gender identities, sexual orientations, and more must be addressed, Cox urged.

“Cox showed us why the tipping point is now,” said Julia Schorn ‘17. “Especially here at Princeton University, where we have racial tensions and new policies now being discussed regarding sexual misconduct, transgender issues lie at that intersection.”

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