Despite three Emmy nominations for her groundbreaking role as Sophia Burset on the TV series Orange is the New Black, Laverne Cox’s path to success has not been straightforward. It is in her capacity as transgender equal rights advocate and public speaker that Cox will tell her turbulent and triumphant life story on March 12 at Zellerbach Hall as part of Cal Performances’ distinguished Speaker Series.
The first transgender woman of color to have a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show, Cox tells her own story — growing up in Mobile, Alabama, moving to New York City, and finding the courage to step into womanhood — to illustrate the unique challenges faced by the transgender community.
Growing up with a love of dance, Cox recalls, “My childhood was filled with dreams of fame and performing in television and movies, and on Broadway and the great stages of the world.” A high school scholarship to the Alabama School of Fine Arts, where she studied classical ballet, led to another scholarship for the same at Indiana University, and ultimately to an MFA in dance at Marymount Manhattan College
Upon moving to New York City after college, Cox first turned to performing as a drag queen in nightclubs. Eventually however, she found the courage to embrace being a woman and to establish her viability and value as a trans-female actor. From there work that began to flow, and Cox produced and starred in her first show on VH1, TRANSform Me. In 2012, Netflix came calling.
Cox gained increased attention after appearing on magazine covers — Time, Cosmopolitan, Essence, British Vogue —and being named one of Glamour magazine’s 2014 Women of the Year. As an award-winning producer of documentaries including Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen and Free CeCe, she has championed the stories of transgender communities and people of color. Named among the Top 50 Trans Icons by the Huffington Post and celebrated with the Courage Award from the Anti-Violence Project, she continues to earn accolades for her advocacy.
Despite surgeries and hormone treatments, Cox prefers not to focus on this aspect of her identity, instead emphasizing her spirit and authenticity. As she shares her views on race, class, and gender equality, hers is a powerful message about the inner strength and self-acceptance — and the need to move beyond gender expectations to live more authentically.
For information and tickets, visit calperformances.org