Today marks the start of Transgender Awareness Week—and if there’s anyone in Hollywood who’s been a fierce pioneer of transgender equality, it’s Laverne Cox. At this year’s Glamour Women of the Year Live Summit, the actress sat down with fellow activist Chelsea Clinton and moderator Alex Wagner of CBS News to discuss the value of persistence, the panel’s theme. And for Laverne, that persistence had to come from a place of love, particularly in the face of constant pushback she received from casting directors and bullies alike.
“Being black, and being trans, and also being a woman—there [wasn’t] a road map to success [for me],” the Orange Is the New Black star said. “I think it’s really important that trans women are included in talks about women.” And these conversations couldn’t be more relevant, considering today’s tense—and frankly misogynistic—political climate. “If we don’t start with inclusion, we are already behind,” Chelsea added.
The statistics remain quite alarming: According to GLAAD, about 1.4 million people in the country identify as transgender, yet only 16 percent of Americans report that they personally know someone who’s transgender. The community is also subject to high rates of discrimination, harassment, poverty and violence—all issues often overlooked, even as this generation continues to grow in its acceptance of LGBT issues.
“Today, so much of our political discourse is not about solutions, not about what we actually could or should be doing to lift more people up and to empower more people,” Chelsea shared. “We have to get to a place where we have shared understanding of what we should be talking about.”
Take Danica Roem, for instance, who ran for office in Virginia and made history when she became the first transgender person to be seated to a US state’s legislature. The Republican challenger, Bob Marshall, had not only pushed for the controversial transgender bathroom bill, but also referred to her using male pronouns and refused to debate her. Yet Danica’s response when asked about her defeated rival? “I don’t attack my constituents,” she said. “Bob is my constituent now.”
As for the goal all of us should seek: acceptance, love and the same level of class that allowed Danica to rise above hate rather than attack her judgmental opponent. As Laverne herself said, “Every moment is an opportunity to learn something and grow.” Amen, girl.