Laverne Cox is an American actress, producer, LGBTQ activist, and public speaker, and trailblazer for transgender rights.
Born in Mobile, Alabama, Cox began experiencing gender dysphoria from a very young age, as well as the bullying that often comes with being different. She attended the Alabama School of Fine Arts, majoring in creative writing and classical ballet. But after appearing in a few school plays, she realized that acting was her calling, and transferred to Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. Cox’s style had always been gender-nonconforming, but during college she began to express as more feminine.
Many people got to know Cox on the television series Orange is the New Black, which aired on Netflix from 2013-19, but Cox already had several small parts under her belt by then. A moment that shaped her future as an actress – and a woman – came in 2007, when she discovered Candis Cayne, the first openly transgender actor to have a recurring role on a prime time television show.
“I didn’t think it was possible to be openly trans and have a career as an actress,” says Cox. “Candis proved that it is possible.”
In Orange Is the New Black, Cox played Sophia Berset, a trans woman serving time for credit card fraud (which she had used to finance gender reassignment surgery). Cox inhabited the character with honesty, dignity, and complexity, winning praise from critics and fans alike. She was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, the first transgender person to be nominated for the award in any acting category.
Orange introduced Cox to a larger audience, and she has been able to win diverse parts in film and television, including Law and Order, HBO’s Bored To Death, and a reality show called I Wanna Work for Diddy. All this led to Cox producing and starring in her own show on VH1 called TRANSform Me. She has also executive produced several documentaries, including 2015’s The T-Word, for which she became the first transgender person to win an Emmy for executive producer. Her 2020 film, Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen, was hailed by Vogue as “one of the 100 best documentaries of all time.”