Laverne Cox speaks to sold out crowd in Lory Student Center Ballroom

McKenna Ferguson

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Photos: Abbie Parr

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Not many people are able to captivate a 1,200 person crowd enough to receive three standing ovations. That is the power of Laverne Cox.

On Thursday night, the Emmy-nominated actress and LGBT activist spoke to a sold out crowd about her unique story as a transgender woman of color with a speech entitled “Ain’t I a Woman: My Journey to Womanhood.”

She started out with a little humor, addressing the fact that First Lady Michelle Obama had spoken from the very same podium just hours before.

“I have never had such an amazing opening act,” she said before diving into her story.

Cox began by citing stunning statistics of transgender violence, bullying and discrimination, including that the majority of LGBT homicides are of trans women and 78 percent of transgender K-12 students are bullied.

“Sometimes just leaving your home as transgender is an act of defiance … so often we’re treated like our lives don’t matter — like we are disposable,” she said.

Things became personal when Cox began to detail her own experiences. She spoke of everything from starting dance classes in third grade — which she considers to be one of the defining moments in her life — to street harassment she received as recently as a few years ago.

“As long as we are in a society where we need to prove our womanhood or manhood, we are not truly free in terms of gender,” she said.

Cox also discussed the overwhelming shame that can accompany those who do not fall perfectly into the gender binary of men and women and how oftentimes other people do not understand. In many cases, people refuse to address transgender individuals by their preferred pronouns, something Cox sees as inexcusable.

“Calling a trans woman a man is an act of violence,” she said.

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Cox also talked about how people should feel proud to be trans, instead of shameful.

“Being trans is beautiful,” she said. “If someone can look at me and know I’m trans, that’s a beautiful thing.”

Students began lining up as early as 4 p.m. for the event, with many others traveling from all over the state to see the “Orange is the New Black” star.

Cox’s words had an impact on much of the crowd, with many able to relate to or sympathize with her struggle.

“This is obviously an issue she’s passionate about, and she really brings that passion out in her speech,” said Rachel Street, a sophomore studying ethnic studies. “She wants to inspire as many people as possible, and it’s working.”

One person who is able to relate to Cox’s struggle in a unique way is Aaric Guerriero, director of CSU’s GLBTQQA Resource Center.

“I came out as trans a few years ago and, at the time, I had no trans people of color I could look up to as icons and role models, so having her here means so much,” he said. “A lot of [her speech] resonates with me personally.”

Guerriero also said he is proud of CSU for bringing Cox here for the event, which was sponsored by Ram Events, the Women and Gender Advocacy Center, the Black/African American Cultural Center and the GLBTQQA Resource Center.

“It really shows that CSU is striving for inclusion and that campus is about equality in all forms,” he said.

Collegian A&E Editor McKenna Ferguson can be reached at mferguson@collegian.com or on Twitter @McKennaMagazine.