April 30, 2014

Laverne Cox to Visit Cornell in September

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Actress and LGBT advocate Laverne Cox — known for her work on the Netflix series Orange is the New Black — will be coming to speak at Cornell next semester, according to the Cornell University Program Board.

According to CUPB President Zachary Zahos ’15, Cox has “been at the top of the list” of names to bring to Cornell since the beginning of this semester.

“She has things to say, and she’s very moving in her speeches,” Zahos said. “I’ve read some great reviews from campus newspapers and newspapers as a whole about how she’s very inspirational, has a good sense of humor and a lot of stories to share, both funny and pretty touching. There’s a lot about her that will make it a wonderful show.”

According to Zahos, Cox will be the first transgender act brought by CUPB in the history of the board. Leo Stellwag grad, founder of the Ithaca Transgender group, said Cox’s selection is significant for this reason.

“Laverne is a role model for many trans people and has used her success and celebrity as a means to amplify her voice as an activist for trans rights and visibility,” Stellwag said. “The trans community needs more people like Laverne and we’re blessed to have her as an advocate.”

Cox has seen increasing success in recent months and is set to receive the Stephen F. Kolzak Award at the GLAAD Media Awards next month in Los Angeles, Zahos said. Past recipients of the award include Ellen DeGeneres, Wanda Sykes, Melissa Etheridge, Rufus Wainwright and Sir Ian McKellan.

“As a trans man and actor, I’m thrilled that Laverne Cox is experiencing success in mainstream film and television, especially because she’s a trans woman of color,” Stellwag said. “I appreciate the fact that trans people are increasingly being cast to play trans characters. There are plenty of talented transgender actors and I believe they should be the ones getting cast for trans roles.”

Mark Sibley ’14 also said he is excited for Cox to speak on campus, noting the recent social media uproar when Cox was not included in Time’s 100 Most Influential People list.

“I was reading up on her and how upset people were when she didn’t make it into Time’s 100 most influential people list,” Sibley said. “I voted for her too, and now she is coming to Cornell and I think that is awesome.”

Philippa Boyes ’15, director of selection for CUPB, said she has high hopes that Cox’s appearance in Bailey Hall will be well-received by students.

“We use a couple of different websites to see which speakers are touring colleges, and when we saw her name we just kind of freaked out, because we thought she would be perfect,” Boyes said. “She comes from such a diverse background. She has a story that I think, regardless of whether you can personally relate, you can relate on an emotional level. I think if you’ve ever listened to her speak, you can hear what a powerful and charismatic speaker she is.”