Orange is the New Black star and transgender activist Laverne Cox is opening up about something very basic, yet something to which most people might not even give a second thought: the U.S. Census. For generations, the Census has kept a running tally of the gender, race, and ages of American citizens, but Cox says that’s not entirely representative of the people of the United States. The Orange is the New Black star says that by not accounting for those whose gender changes and those with a less traditional sexual orientation, the government is essentially telling the LGBT community that they don’t exist.
Orange Is The New Black‘s Laverne Cox Wants To Be Tracked
As Sophia Burset in Orange is the New Black, Cox is the first transgender woman to star in a television series, so she’s used to breaking new ground and that’s just what she’s trying to do with her most recent appearance, this time at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
“Because the federal government does not track LGBT, specifically sexual orientation and gender identity data, the lives of LGBT people in this country, in a very specific way, do not count,” Ms. Cox said. “Transgender people specifically are told that we don’t exist, that our lives don’t matter.”
Laverne said that, by not tracking the LGBT community in the same way that it does other elements of society, the government is lending credence to the idea that gay and transgender people are less valued as members of American culture and society. In turn, Cox adds that this kind of thinking leads to depression and suicide attempts in the LGBT community.
Laverne is familiar with those feelings of depression. The Orange is the New Black star says she attempted suicide herself at age 11, when, after realizing that her attraction to other boys was a sin, she ran home from church and swallowed a bottle of pills. Cox says no one ever knew about the suicide attempt, because it failed and she only had a severe stomach ache for her troubles.
The LGBT Data Inclusion Act of 2016, which is supported by 77 members of Congress, will change that by requiring the government to begin tracking the data.
“Accurate data is critical to understanding the issues that people in the U.S. face and to developing strategies to address disparities,” said the Transgender Law Center in a statement. “Funding is allocated, services are created, and different communities are prioritized based on government data.”
Laverne Cox Calls For Society To Change How Transgendered Individuals Are Treated In Day To Day Interactions
In speaking of the advances made for transgender persons in particular, the Orange is the New Black actress says that transgender performers and celebrities have helped to improve visibility, but that hasn’t really changed how members of the transgender community are treated on a daily basis. Cox points out that there are still 30 states in the country that lack protections for transgenders against discrimination.
“But in terms of the day-to-day lives of trans people, we still experience violence at a disproportionate rate, as well as homelessness, unemployment, the denial of health care, and being criminalised and incarcerated,” said Laverne.
Ms. Cox acknowledges that she has been more fortunate than most in the transgender community and says that she has her role on Orange is the New Black to thank for that, because, due to the success of the new series, she has been able to propel herself to a better situation.
“It’s been incredible to have one show change your life so completely,” Cox says. “I was just on the cover of Variety magazine, I won a daytime Emmy award last month [for her documentary about transgender youth, The T Word], I won a SAG award. I’ve met the President, twice. It’s insane.”
Ironically, Laverne wasn’t the only one responsible for the success of Orange is the New Black‘s Sophia. Director Jodie Foster felt that Laverne was too feminine to play herself as a pre-transitioned Sophie, so Cox’s brother, musician and artist M Lamar, was brought into play the role.
“We went through an eight-hour hair and make-up process to come up with Sophia’s looks through her transition, but Jodie Foster didn’t think I was butch enough to do it myself,” Cox recalls.
Orange is the New Black is set to premiere on Netflix on Friday, June 17.
[Image by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images Fragrance Foundation]