“Orange is the New Black” star Laverne Cox received news that she would be on the cover the June 9 issue of Time magazine on her birthday. In a navy blue Herve Leger dress, Cox stands next to the issue’s cover story headline, “The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s Next Civil Rights Frontier.” She wrote on Facebook:
The Cox cover story possibly comes as a two-fold response: Fans of the advocate petitioned the publication following her exclusion from the magazine’s annual Time 100 list despite popular vote. And as Time puts it, Cox’s story comes with a timely message: “Nearly a year after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, another social movement is poised to challenge deeply held cultural beliefs.”
With news judgement and social media on her side, the activist for transgender rights emerges on newsstands with a powerful message as the magazine declares her, “an unlikely icon.” The Time story, written by Katy Steinmetz, explores the hurtles for acceptance, understanding, and just general civil rights the transgender community regularly faces. Steinmetz interviewed Cox and other trans Americans who are fighting to have their diverse issues and experiences heard in a society that bases so much of a person’s identity on gender.
“I don’t represent the entirety of the trans community,” said Cox in a video for the cover shoot. “There are multiple experiences and multiple relationships to one’s identity, so it’s really about listening to individuals in terms of how they define themselves and describe themselves and taking people at their word.”
“An unlikely icon” or not, Cox has made her voice heard on behalf of her community — not only as a transgender female, but also as a transgender woman of color. Her “Orange is the New Black” character is a transgender inmate named Sophia Burset and allows the actress to explore different issues faced by the trans community both on and off the screen.
She famously shut down Katie Couric during a January segment with transgender model Carmen Carrera, when the talk show host questioned her guests about their surgeries and bodies. Cox turned the tables on Couric, demanding the interview be refocused on the violence and prejudice the community is faced with rather than a question she said “objectifies trans people.”
Cox also spoke at a student-led session at Harvard in late February where she said she hoped sharing her experiences and perspectives with students would shed light on the community within “privileged spaces.” According to the Crimson, she said that speaking to potential future leaders would give insight into trans issues and noted, “I think it’s important for those with privilege to critically interrogate that privilege.”