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By Danielle Chaloux

In the wake of an act of vandalism to an LGBTQ art exhibit at the University of Connecticut and the student response in the form of UConn Speak OUT, prominent transgender advocate and actress Laverne Cox spoke at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday night.

Sponsored by the Rainbow Center and SUBOG, Cox’s discussion urged the audience to move beyond gender expectations to live more authentically. In her introduction, Fleurette King, the director of the UConn Rainbow Center, questioned the audience to think about whether Laverne Cox would be comfortable in spaces frequented by students across campus – whether be it in the dorms, the dining hall, or the classroom.

As Cox took the stage to thunderous applause, she echoed the sentiment of finding and creating safe spaces. Cox says her experiences from being bullied and harassed as a child caused her to internalize shame. and that it was imperative for her to find these spaces of healing.

Identifying herself as an individual living in the intersections between many marginalized identities, Cox’s success as an Emmy-nominated actress on the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black” is not typical. She called attention to the state of emergency that the trans community is facing. Her response was that society must work for justice, which according to Cornel West is “what love looks like in public.”

Christine Wilson, the Director of Student Activities, had this to say “ One of my favorite things that Laverne said was that empathy is an antidote to shame. I’ve been working with students for 25 years, and shame really cripples people, so I like the way she put that, because everyone can be empathetic.”

Cox’s talk was sprinkled with life lessons and witticisms, and in taking questions from the audience, she also gave advice on acting, coming out, and predictions about the entertainment industry in relation to trans issues.

The overall message was one of love and acceptance. Cox said that people should embrace diverse beauty, especially those not traditionally considered beautiful in the gender binary system. In speaking about her acting career, she emphasized the importance of ignoring the rejections that say “too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too everything” and instead staying focused on the work.

This piece contains reporting by Melissa Lovitz.