Tag Archives: Orange is the New Black

LGBT Pride and History Month 2014: Laverne Cox

16 Jun

LCoxToday we honor and celebrate a woman who is a powerful voice for the too often overlooked transgender community. Laverne Cox was born in Mobile, AL, not an LGBTQ friendly state or city.  She graduated from Marymount Manhattan College and began an acting career.

Cox was one of the first out trans women to make significant appearances on network television, especially as a woman of color. She appeared on two episodes of shows in the Law and Order franchise and was an out trans contestant on the VH1 reality show I Want to Work for Diddy. As her fame grew, she began using it as a platform to speak about trans issues and equality.

Her fame has only increased since she was cast as trans prisoner Sophia Burset on the Netflix show Orange Is the New Black. It’s a compelling performance of a well-written character, and Cox deserves all the accolades that her work has garnered. That fame has made her one of the most famous and visible trans actors in the world and provided her with even more opportunities for advocacy and activism.

Cox is a passionate speaker who has a powerful way with words. She makes her points clearly and supports them with the sad facts about the oppression and aggression directed at the trans community. She makes space for the unfortunate reality that very few people understand — or even try to — the complex realities of being a transgender person. When she appeared in a now-infamous interview with Katie Couric, she responded to a clumsy series of questions about genitalia and surgery with a classy, informative, calm focus on the real issues facing the trans community.

Recognition of her advocacy work garnered Cox a position in history as the first out trans person to feature on the cover of Time magazine. She is also the first African-American transgender person to produce and star in her own TV show, the VH1 makeover program TRANSform Me.

As LGBT rights move forward in the 21st Century, the needs and issues of the “T” in the acronym often get overlooked or sacrificed for political expediency. Laverne Cox is a strong, smart voice dedicated to reversing that trend. Her work is critically important and her dedication is impressive. I hope all of us will stand in solidarity with the transgender community.

Standing Up To Transphobia: Lea DeLaria Says “No” to MichFest

28 May

DeLariaThe Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival — popularly known as MichFest — is one of the oldest ongoing music events in the country. Founded in 1976 as a women-only camping and entertainment event, it has been in the same location since 1982, drawing thousands of women each year. Sadly, it is also driven by what founder and organizer Lisa Vogel refers to as “The Intention.” This policy declares that only “womyn born womyn” are allowed to attend, actively excluding any women not assigned female gender at birth.

This deplorable transphobia flies in the face of true feminism and dangerously ignores our need to stand in solidarity. By subscribing to a narrow binary of gender identity, Vogel tragically perpetuates the kind of marginalization that she maintains the festival was created to eliminate. Since Nancy Burkholder — a trans woman — was ejected from the festival in 1991 transgender activists have worked hard to raise awareness of “The Intention” and its harmful effects.

This year an actor and comedian has led an exodus from MichFest in protest to the policy. Lea DeLaria, a strong advocate for all of the LGBT community throughout her career, has gained recent attention starring in the Netflix original series Orange Is the New Black. After signing up to perform at MichFest she learned about The Intention from co-star Laverne Cox — one of the most visible transgender entertainers. Not content to just walk away, DeLaria issued a strong statement rebuking Vogel and MichFest for their shameful practices. She also noted some of the more dramatic protests mounted by activists outside the festival, including physical harassment and bomb threats.

After over 30 years of gay activism and as an out, proud member of the LGBTQ Community, I do not wish to be a party to infighting. We queers need to find a way to stop this fighting and work together towards our common goal. Both sides of the Michigan Women’s Music Festival dispute refuse to listen to each other. Due to their unyielding stance, I am withdrawing from the festival. I truly look forward to the time when all LGBTQ stand as one. Perhaps then we can collectively laugh at how fucked up is it when I’M the voice of reason.

Nicely done, Lea. Other performers have joined the boycott, including out folk duo Indigo Girls, poet Andrea Gibson, and rockers Hunter Valentine.

Katie Couric and the Transgender Community

23 Jan

Katie CouricI need to thank my friends Nel Ward and Jodi Sisson, both of whom have amazing voices for social justice, for inspiring me to write this story.  I have always appreciated Katie Couric, never more than when she interviewed Sarah Palin. Couric was one of the very few who actually approached Palin as a journalist, for which I will always be grateful. Sadly, this story brings up many questions for me around Couric’s intent and impact on the targeted transgender population.

Katie hosted  Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black) and model Carmen Carrera. While there was a little space for each woman to talk about their current respective projects, Couric seemed unpleasantly focused on genitalia and sadly kept showing pictures of Carrera in bandages — a constant reminder of surgery. What a sad loss of the opportunity for Couric to have demonstrated some solidarity with the transgender community. Can we focus on “hearts not parts?”

What was lovely was how Laverne Cox handled the interview.  She was exceedingly gracious and did a marvelous job of highlighting her activism within the LGBTQ community. Brava!

I don’t want to judge Couric too harshly here. I don’t presume to know the workings of her heart. I am trying to give her the benefit of the doubt and allow for: perhaps she was trying to set the stage for Cox and Carrera to educate the general population around transgender issues and how transgender people have to navigate the world very differently from cisgender people. I hope this was the case, and that Couric was just clumsy in this attempt.  Cox does a marvelous job of addressing the bizarre focus on genitalia:

That preoccupation…objectifies trans people and then we don’t get to deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is that so often we’re targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community and our unemployment rate is twice the national average…When we focus on transition, we don’t get to talk about those things.

Perfectly stated. Again, I will challenge us all to focus on Hearts Not Parts! Ms. Couric, if I have in any way misrepresented you, I welcome your feedback.

Sadly, we have more concrete evidence of transphobia, which Cox addressed, in Louisiana. Councilman Ron Webb of Shreveport, LA said: “The Bible tells you homosexuals are an abomination” adding that he “does not socialize with LGBT people,” in his opposition to a bill that would protect LGBT people from discrimination. Webb was using his bible as a weapon to justify his bigotry.  Fortunately, Pamela Raintree, a transgender woman, addresses Webb in a most eloquent way and causing Webb to withdraw his opposition:

“Leviticus 20:13 states, ‘If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, they shall surely put him to death,'” Raintree began. “I brought the first stone, Mr. Webb, in case that your Bible talk isn’t just a smoke screen for personal prejudices.”

Well done, Ms. Raintree!  Fortunately, here in Portland, Oregon we have several organizations that support transgender people, including TransActive, which supports transgender youth.

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