VIDEO: Laverne Cox Speaks On The Revolutionary Act Of Loving Trans Women At Creating Change 2014

Please excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor because I am just plowed over by the brilliance that was Laverne Cox giving the keynote address at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s 26th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change.

Creating Change is happening right at this very moment! Maybe you’re there yourself. It is a big, queer, corporate conference sponsored by everything, from lube to oats to airplanes and the AARP. (The cool part about its bigness is that a bunch of radical queer people can come together and use all that super corporate money for radical things!) This year, 4,000 people from across the United States are gathered in Houston, Texas for the five-day festival of queer networking and “networking.” The themes of the 2014 conference are HIV/AIDS in communities of color, trans* rights, and the intersections of the gay rights movements with healthcare and immigration.

Cox’s presence at Creating Change is clearly setting the tone for the conference and for the direction of the movement. Samantha, a grad student at Emory University attending Creating Change, spoke to that: “I am at CC because Laverne Cox is here! It’s a banner year for transgender activism and …I’m thrilled that trans women of color are at the center of this conference instead of the periphery.”

There’s a lot on the docket for Creating Change. Each day is packed with shorter workshops and daylong “institutes” to go more in-depth on issues ranging from economic justice to bi/pan/fluid organizing. Flipping through their 160-page catalogue, these would be my highlights:

  • Crisis of Success: LGBTQ Momentum, Racial Regression and Our Collective Challenge by Rebecca Suldan, Rinku Sen, Tarson Luis Ramos and Caitlin Breedlove
  • How Arizona “Flushed” Anti-Trans Legislation by C. Michael Woodward and Abigail (Abby) Jensen
  • From Stonewall to Stop and Frisk: Police Violence, Government Misconduct, and the Criminalization of LGBTQ Communities by National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Lambda Legal, Streetwise and Safe and BreakOUT!
  • 69 Ways to Use Saran Wrap: Queering Your Campus Safe Sex Education by Zaneta Rago
  • The Secret to Your Story is Vulnerability by Gabriel Garcia-Vera and Nicolas Rolda

If you’re there at Creating Change, I’m jealous. But thanks to technology, I tuned into the livestream of the opening plenary that kicked off the conference. After an hour of PSAs and introductions, Houston Mayor Annise Parker spoke, Kate Clinton told some bad jokes, and then finally, finally, Laverne Cox came on stage to give her keynote address.

The crowd exploded when Cox took the stage. She opened by speaking directly to what that felt like: “I have to say that a black transgender woman from a working class background raised by a single mother — that’s me — getting all this love tonight, this feels like the change I need to see more of in this country.” She used the stage to highlight the work of trans women activists across the United States, naming the power of love and resilience in resisting the violence that is constantly perpetrated against trans women, specifically trans women of color.

Laverne Cox with activists Janet Mock, Reina Gossett, Miss Major and Kokumo via SRLP

Laverne Cox with activists Janet Mock, Reina Gossett, Miss Major and Kokumo via SRLP

Cox pointed to trans activists Silvia Rivera, Miss Major, Monica Roberts, Kylar Broadus and Candis Cayne for the work they’ve done that paved the way for her. Cox named organizations serving trans* people like the Chicago House’s TransLife Project and Casa Ruby in Washington, DC, specifically noting their need for more money to do the work that they do.

“Trans women supporting and loving each other is a revolutionary act.”

She looked to CeCe McDonald. CeCe’s story shows the violence perpetrated against trans women of color by the criminal justice system. “That shit is fucked up,” Cox said, pulling no punches as she detailed the violent reality of the world that trans women of color have to live in.

Cox named the necessity of love in the struggle for justice for trans women of color, pointing again to CeCe, the Transgender Youth Support Network in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the work of grassroots activists there that did amazing work with few resources to make sure CeCe did not get lost in the criminal justice system.

“The way in which CeCe advocated for herself and the way in which her support committee advocated for her is a template for the way we do activism all over this country. It started with CeCe and it started with her having this profound sense of love for herself, that everyone around her felt. Everybody I talked to who has come in contact with CeCe talks about this woman who inspired them and who had so much hope and propelled them to have hope to and to fight on her behalf. Love for a black trans woman freed her and kept her safe on the inside. …I believe when we love someone, we respect them and we listen to them, and we feel like their voice matters… We let them dictate the terms of who they are and what their story is.”

CeCe McDonald and Laverne Cox via GLAAD

CeCe McDonald and Laverne Cox via GLAAD

What was truly incredible about watching Cox speak is that she didn’t just talk about the revolution — she made her speech a revolutionary act in itself. Even a year ago, it seemed unlikely that a black trans woman could have that kind of platform, speaking to the public of the LGBTQ community as an actor who already has recognition in the mainstream community at-large. Cox named how much has changed, how much trans women have been at the center of that change, and also how much still needs to be done. “Trans women supporting and loving each other is a revolutionary act,” she said. Referring to the responses to her and Carmen Carrera’s interview with Katie Couric, she said, “We are changing the conversation right now.” And you know she was including Mey’s response.

Throughout her speech, Cox was interrupted by applause over thirty times. “It really is a big deal to have this kind of support,” she said. She talked about having lived most of her life being chased by people who were trying to beat her up, and struggling with self-hatred.

“I’ve always been like, ‘Love myself? How the heck am I supposed to do that?’ …I believe, now, I’m starting to understand a little bit of what it means. I don’t internalize all the negative things and negative stereotypes that people have of trans women of color. I don’t do that number on myself anymore… I am starting to believe that in the deepest core of myself that I am beautiful, I am smart, I am amazing.”

Cox brought a clear call to action for the audience at Creating Change: support trans women, and make their voices the ones which define the struggle. She used her platform to breathe life into the room and the movement, speaking to the realities of the lives trans women of color live today, reminding all queer people that we cannot be complacent, that there is always more work to be done in the struggle for justice for trans* people, and that that work must be done from a place of love.

Take some time to listen to Cox’s speech for yourself. You can tune into other Creating Change plenaries online at the Gay and Lesbian Task Force Livestream.

feature image via National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change facebook

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Maddie lives and writes in Philadelphia. She graduated from Vassar College with a degree in Women’s Studies and a strong friendship with the Geography department. Read her thoughts on border politics and trains, among other things, on her blog, or follow her on Twitter.

Maddie has written 60 articles for us.

10 Comments

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      Seems feminist enough to me – I’ll go further. I’ve always adored extremely femme women. If she’s not “passing” enough – many cis-women I know are not “passing” enough. What the heck is she expected to do or be? She’s gorgeous!

      Course she’s straight. Always the way…(joke…)

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    I just watched the entire talk and I’m grinning from ear to ear, Laverne knocked it out of the park! That was not a speech as much as an empowering call to arms for trans women (and the whole of the queer community)! I especially loved her mentioning that the spotlight is big enough for trans women to not compete against each other as she articulated the scarcity myth. Having seen first hand just how bad the policing and cliques can be within the trans community this is a speech I wish I could show to each and every trans woman in this country. Truth spoken with love. Preach! :)

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    The cool part about its bigness is that a bunch of radical queer people can come together and use all that super corporate money for radical things!
    YEAH.

    I begged the friend whose house I happened to be at to put the livestream on while Laverne was speaking and then ran around excitedly saying things like “Do you hear her right now?” “Yes.” “Go ahead, girl” and of course, “Y’ALL KNOW SHE’S FROM ALABAMA RIGHT? YOU GUYS SHE WENT TO SCHOOL DOWN THE ROAD. YOU GUYS.”

    Also, I enjoyed how all of the music between presenters was Beyonce. Really, all of it. That’s fine.

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    Wow amazing I am looking forward to Laverne getting more opportunities like this to speak and share her wonderful thoughts and inspire everyone with her activism. Really enjoyed how she mentioned so many important issues while also talking about personal struggles.

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