Laverne Cox - How "Orange Is the New Black" Approaches Trans Incarceration

June 29, 2016 - Laverne Cox 06/29/2016 Views: 16,746

Laverne Cox explains how her show "Orange Is the New Black" portrays transgender women in prison and discusses the push for more LGBT data collection in government surveys. (5:35)

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Please welcome Laverne Cox.

(cheers and applause)


(applause and cheering swell)

Thank you.

Thank you so much. Aw.

I-I like him them.I like you.

-Thank you.-And they like you.

-They like you, as well.-Thank you so much.

Welcome to the show.

Aw. It's good to be here,finally.

-This is my first time here.-It is your first time here.

-And yet, we met so long ago.-It took a black man

from South Africato make it happen.

-(laughter)-To make it all happen.


Congratulations on everything

that you haveand are continuing to achieve.

-Mm. -You're a trailblazerin every sense of the word.

The scene that we watched there

in Orange Is the New Black is really,

I guess, the culminationof a powerful story line.

-Mm. -One that you reallygot into as a character.

-Your character gets put intosolitary confinement... -Yes.

...because she is attacked.

And this is somethingthat is happening quite a lot,

unfortunately,in American prisons.

Could you speakto that and how you...

I guess how you process theinformation to play that role?

Well, what people should know isthat trans folks are, um...

Usually trans women are housedin men's prisons.

It's very rarethat trans women are

in women's prisonslike my character Sophia Burset.

And often they're, um...trans women are

placed in men's prisonsand then are placed

in solitary confinementfor our protection.


Prison officials reasonthat it's probably not safe

for a womanto be in a men's prison, and so,

instead of maybe putting themin a women's prison,

they put themin solitary confinement.

And human rights, um,folks all over the world,

um, agree that solitaryconfinement is tantamount

-to cruel and unusualpunishment... -Yes.

...which is a violationof our eighth amendment.

And people who have beenin solitary for just 24 hours

or a week can have side effects

from thatfor the rest of their lives.

Hallucinations, paranoia,suicidal tendencies.

Um, it's a really horrible,dangerous practice,

um, solitary,and when we got to explore,

when I gotto explore this story line

on Orange Is the New Black with what my character,

I did a lot of research, too,and I think...

I hopewe do a good job on the show

of bringing youinto Sophia's mind state,

and the state of mind for peoplewho are in solitary

-and what that does to someone.-It really...

It really is a powerful story,and the fact you're playing it.

I mean, Orange Is the New Black is such a popular show.

It gets it out there,gets people talking about it.

But you are in multiple places

having this conversation,as well.

You are also involvedin legislature now.

You know, you are going outthere trying to affect the laws

that are affecting trans peopleall over America,

including the Data act

that you are tryingto be a part of passing.

Why is that important to you?

A-a few weeks ago,I-I-I went to DC

to do a press conference,um, about the

-LGBT Data Inclusion Act.-Yeah.

And for-for those of youwho don't know,

basically it's an act that willrequire governmental agencies

to take gender identityand sexual orientation data

in their governmental surveys.

Right now we don't actuallyhave an accurate count

of how many transgender people,

how many LGBT peopleexist in the United States,

because we don't actuallyask the questions.

And a couple of years ago,

I was like, "What needsto happen for trans folks?"

And I was-I was-I was thinkingon a systemic level.

And I was like,

"We need to dismantlethe gender binary model."

And I started thinking aboutthe census and data collection

as a way to begin toinstitutionally do that.

And I think another thingthat people should know

is that, um, there's lotsof dollars that go...

go to organizationsthat are allocated every year

based on census data.

And if you are not counted,

you're often discounted.

So those dollars don't actuallygo to LGBT groups.

And I think peopleshould also know

that when laws like HB2were passed in North Carolina

-that stigmatize... -Yes,the bath-the bathroom bill.

-The bathroom bill-Yes.

...that stigmatize andcriminalize transgender people,

that kind of stigmais able to exist in part

because people are ableto spread misinformation

about whotransgender people are.

Um, what I do in the mediais tell trans stories.

Data collection is another way

to tell storiesabout who LGBT people are.

Um, to talkabout the disparities

that-that we experience.

And what LGBT people should know

is that this, um, eh,would be, um...

providing this informationwould be voluntary

-Yeah.-and confidential.

So that a lot of the transfolks, a lot of LGBT people

still don't feel safe disclosing

that they're LGBTin this country.

And so part of the work ismaking it safer for people

to proudly declarethat they are LGBT.

I say, "Trans is beautiful."

I've been, um, doing thathashtag for a long time,

and people are like, "Why do youkeep saying trans is beautiful?

-You're just a woman."-(laughing)

But I'm like, "It's important."

There are trans people all overthis country, all over the world

who still do not feel beautiful.

Who still do not feel

-as if their lives matter.-Right.

And they do.

And I think counting usis a very basic way

to affirmthat these lives matter.

You're definitelyon the right track.

You're definitely, definitelyon the right track.

Um... so you're not justin Orange Is the New Black.

You have some, uh,projects coming up.

You're gonna be in's Rocky Horror, right?

-Yes, um...-Yes.

That-that I-I read,

I read that about youand I read that

this was oneof your lifetime dreams,

was to be a partof the production.

You know, I discoveredthis movie and this character,

-Dr. Frank-N-Furter, becamea blueprint for me. -Yeah.

The song "Don't Dream It Be It"became my own personal mantra,

and when the opportunitycame to play this character

so many years later,I was, like,

is this gonna really happen?

A-a black, trans womanhas actually never played

this part before,a-a-after 40 years,

and we screen-tested and theyliked me and we made the movie,

and it's gonna be outaround Halloween on Fox.

So exciting.

Everything you dois so exciting.

I cannot thank you enoughfor being here.

I cannot-- thank youfor your time, your beauty,

your inspiration,everything that you do.

Thank you so much.

My beauty?Thank you, Trevor.

The new seasonof Orange Is the New Black

is streaming on Netflix.

Laverne Cox, everybody.