Updated on April 18:
Emmy Award winning actress and transgender activist Laverne Cox came to Webster University to talk about discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Cox went from trying to commit suicide as a teen to winning an Emmy as a director and for her reappearing role on the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.”
Cox talked about how she overcame some of her life’s obstacles. Cox was born Roderick Cox. She was a black boy raised by her mom and grandma in Mobile, Ala.
Cox said she grew up with tremendous amounts of shame for being a boy but feeling like a girl. She said she felt misunderstood and felt unequal. She opened her talk with how she feels today.
“I stand before you a proud African American transgender woman,” Cox said.
The 370 attendees in Grant Gymnasium on April 10 erupted with applause.
She referenced many books that inspired her. Cox’s activism speech “Ain’t I a Woman” is titled after a book written by Bell Hooks. The book was based off of Soujourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech, which she delivered in 1851.
“Hooks’ words were like oxygen to me,” Cox said. “Hooks is like an idol to me. Reading her book spoke to me about women’s liberation.”
Cox spoke about equality and acceptance of all marginalized people.
Nicholas Schnerre was at the Cox appearance and is a gay political activist. He said Cox inspired his persistence in the 2016 election aftermath.
“She inspired my work as a political activist,” Schnerre said. “I continued to go with persistence instead of fear due to her influence in my life.”
Cox talked about laws singling out marginalized people and prohibiting them from living their lives like those around them. She talked about gender neutral public bathrooms, serving in the military and what schools transgender people could attend. She said these actions are a form of cultural and structural violence.
Webster student Makayla Hufziger remembers seeing how people are mistreated at an early age. Hufziger said it had a profound effect on her.
“My mother and I came across people protesting the gay community when I was young,” Hufziger said. “My mother told me that being gay was wrong. I didn’t understand her because all I saw were people expressing themselves and loving who they wanted to love. I didn’t know why that was wrong, no matter how she tried to convince me.”
Cox was able to bring about laughter while she talked about the times she was bullied and beaten up.
“I was chased home by kids who wanted to beat me up,” Cox said. ”They called me names because of my gender expression. They said I acted like a girl, whatever that means, because we know girls act all sorts of ways.”
Schnerre said he related to Cox because he too had seen discrimination as a gay man, and he believed these talks are opening the doors for equality.
“As a gay man, people would harass me. Gay teens are often hit and spat on,” Schnerre said. “That is why I became a political activist and have shared my #MeToo story. I pray by 2020, equal rights will be fully embraced.”
Twenty-five percent of the LGBTQ+ population try to commit suicide compared to 4.5 percent of the rest of the population according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Cox said she took a whole bottle of pills as a youth.
Cox said the LGBTQ+ community often feels shame, and the antidote to shame is empathy. Cox read a book by Brene’ Brown that stated shame grows exponentially by adding silence, secrecy and judgment to it.
Cox said the book stated if you take empathy and throw it in a petri dish full of shame, that will reduce the shame by 85 percent.
“I didn’t want to wake up,” Cox said. “I just didn’t want to feel like a disappointment to my grandma anymore.”
Cox said she then went to being an overachiever to push down her feelings of inadequacy. She talked about being a straight-A student and how she won a high school public speaking championship. She would pursue dancing and acting as well.
“Success is really the best revenge,” Cox said.
Hufziger said it was empowering to watch women express themselves openly in any way they please. She said Webster embracing individuality and having events like this is one of Webster’s best qualities.
“Really, all of this is about being good humans,” Hufziger said. “Accepting others the way you want to be accepted.”
Cox called on people to be open and honest with those around them. She charged the nearly full Grant Gymnasium to go out and have those difficult conversations about their differences.
“Acknowledge that discrimination and violence is happening,” Cox said. “There should be no victim blaming. We need to heal with empathy, acceptance, love and understanding.”
Published on April 11:
Transgender activist Laverne Cox talked about growing up a black boy in Mobile, Ala. and feeling like a woman. She discussed the hardships she had to endure and the awkwardness of her puberty. The Webster University Grant Gymnasium had a crowd of 370 enthusiastically cheering people Tuesday night.
Cox talked about how she lives a life of constant bullying. She is having a successful public career, but she still feels social shaming. Cox used the term “misgendering,” when people call her out as a man, although she is a woman. She was raised by her mother and grandmother who did not understand her.
Webster student Makayla Hufziger said Cox’s talk was inspirational to her as a woman.
“I thought she was incredibly empowering for not only the LGBT community, but for all people as well,” Hufziger said. “She exudes confidence but comes from a humble background that was relatable to everyone in the room.”
Cox talked to the crowd about bullying and crimes committed against marginalized people.
Cox said she too was a victim of bullying and racial profiling as a transgender black female.
Cox concluded people need less violence and more understanding. She encouraged the crowd to communicate with love and empathy.
“Go have those difficult conversations with people around you,” Cox said. “We need to understand each other. We need to work out our differences with love. Empathy is the antidote to shame.”
Cox is having a successful career as an actress on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.” She has been on the cover of Time and Cosmopolitan. She has received numerous awards including a Daytime Emmy.