Laverne Cox is an American actress, reality television star, television producer, and LGBT advocate. A transgender woman, Cox is perhaps best known for portraying Sophia Burset in the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. She is also known for appearing as a contestant on the first season of VH1’s I Want to Work for Diddy, and for producing and co-hosting the VH1 makeover television series TRANSform Me. In April 2014, Cox was honored by GLAAD with its Stephen F. Kolzak Award for her work as an advocate for the transgender community.
Cox was born in Mobile, Alabama. She has a twin brother, who portrays the pre-transitioning Sophia (as Marcus) in Orange Is the New Black. She is a graduate of the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham, Alabama and Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, New York, where she began acting.
Cox is best known for her recurring role in the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black as Sophia Burset, a trans woman sent to prison for credit-card fraud, and is the hairdresser for many of the inmates. She is also known for appearing as a contestant on the first season of VH1’s I Want to Work for Diddy, as well as producing and co-hosting the VH1 makeover television series TRANSform Me, which made her the first African-American transgender person to produce and star in her own TV show. Both those shows were nominated for GLAAD media awards for outstanding reality programs, and when Diddy won in 2009, Cox accepted the award at the GLAAD ceremony, giving a speech described by the San Francisco Sentinel as “among the most poignant because [it] reminded us how important it is to tell our stories, all of our stories.” She has also acted in a number of TV shows and films, including Law and Order: SVU, Bored to Death, and Musical Chairs.
In addition to her work as an entertainer, she speaks and writes about transgender rights and other current affairs in a variety of venues, such as the Huffington Post. Her role in Orange is the New Black provides her a platform to speak on the rights of trans people. In a recent interview, she stated, “Sophia is written, as a multi-dimensional character who the audience can really empathize with—all of the sudden they’re empathizing with a real Trans person. And for Trans folks out there, who need to see representations of people who are like them and of their experiences, that’s when it becomes really important.”
In November 2013 she was chosen as the recipient of the Reader’s Choice Award at Out Magazine’s OUT100 Gala, honoring the magazine’s selection of 2013s 100 “most compelling people of the year.” Cox is also the Anti-Violence Project 2013 Courage Award honoree and in the interview for it on YouTube, she stated, “Wikipedia says I’m an ‘activist,’ but I prefer transgender ‘advocate.'”
In January of 2014, Cox joined trans woman Carmen Carrera on Katie Couric’s syndicated show, Katie. Couric referred to transgender people as “transgenders,” and after being rebuffed by Carerra on the subject of her surgeries, specifically what genital augmentation she had done, turned the same question to Cox. Cox responded,
I do feel there is a preoccupation with that. The preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people. And then we don’t get to really deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is that so often we are targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average; if you are a trans person of color, that rate is four times the national average. The homicide rate is highest among trans women. If we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.
News outlets such as Salon, The Huffington Post, and Business Insider covered what was characterized by Salon writer Katie McDonough as Couric’s “clueless” and “invasive” line of questioning.
Cox was on the cover of the June 9th, 2014 issue of Time, and was interviewed for the article “The Transgender Tipping Point” by Katy Steinmetz, which ran in that issue and the title of which was also featured on the cover; this makes Cox the first openly transgender person on the cover of Time