Content warning: Discussion of violence against trans people, transphobia
In Canada, 43 per cent of trans people attempt suicide at some time in their life, compared to 41 per cent in the United States.
In her opening remarks, Laverne Cox, a well-known actress, producer, speaker and trans activist, declared it a “state of emergency for trans people.”
Cox received three standing ovations at the Elgin Theatre on March 24 after speaking to over 2,000 students and members of the trans community at the sold-out show “Ain’t I A Woman: My Journey to Womanhood.”
The event was organized by a large number of student collectives and groups from all three University of Toronto campuses, Ryerson University, York University, and George Brown College. Tickets were allocated to each school and some were reserved for members of the trans community in Toronto.
There was an ASL interpreter present at the event.
Executives of the York Federation of Students and the Ryerson Student Union introduced Laverne Cox while acknowledging the indigenous land the event took place on and that priority for the event went to non-cisgender people. They also honoured the trans youth whose lives have been lost to transphobia.
“Justice is what love looks like in public,” Cox said, quoting Cornel West. She continued that people of colour and people with disabilities need love.
Cox spoke for roughly an hour and a half and then took questions for 15 minutes, where members of the audience asked questions about learning to love oneself and how to support a significant other during their transition.
Cox also spoke about her experiences, past and present, navigating her own identity.
“Calling a trans woman a man is an act of violence,” said Cox during her speech, further addressing cat-calling and the importance of pronouns, declaring that “pronouns matter.”
Cox discussed her struggle to accept herself while growing up in Alabama in a Christian, single-parent household. She acknowledged intersectional identities and their importance, such as her own, being a trans woman of colour.
She spoke of how she was bullied her whole life and the struggle for her to find herself and for others to accept her. She described a particular incident where her therapist wanted to inject her with testosterone to make her more masculine.
Cox later tweeted that the event in Toronto was “palpable and powerful.”
Her role as Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black is the first instance of a trans woman of colour playing a leading role on mainstream scripted TV.