Laverne Cox, whose groundbreaking role on “Orange is The New Black” made her the first transgender woman of color on mainstream TV and a two-time Emmy nominee, visited Boston Wednesday to urge voters to keep transgender individuals’ rights intact by voting yes on Question 3.
Voting yes on the ballot question would preserve the state law barring discrimination against transgender people in public spaces like stores and restaurants and allowing them to use public restrooms consistent with their gender identity.
When Massachusetts enacted the law in 2016, Cox said, “That was an amazing thing. That was something to celebrate. And here we are, two years later, defending that. It is a reminder to me that the fight is never done.”
While Cox cheered on her fellow transgender activists rallying for the campaign, she spoke about tougher times in her own life 17 years ago, when she was weathering so much scorn and discrimination, she contemplated suicide.
“Every day I left the house, I had to arm myself — not literally, but emotionally — because I knew when I left the house that I was probably going to be harassed,” she said.
Weary of being viewed as a man as she was transitioning to female, she made copies of notes with the statements, “My name is Laverne Cox and I should not be referred to by any other names,” and “My preferred pronouns are she and her and I should not be referred to by any other pronouns.”
“My plan was to have a copy in each of my pockets and then to have them placed around my apartment because I was planning to kill myself,” she said. “I wanted to make sure I would not be dead-named in my death, that the disrespect and disregard for my identity that I was experiencing on a daily basis would not happen when I was dead.”
Cox could not explain exactly what changed her mind, besides inspiration in her burgeoning acting career.
“I am so grateful that I survived,” she said. “And I’ve come to understand that I’m here for a divine purpose.”
Question 3 is a voter initiated ballot campaign aimed at revoking the law, which added gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in places of public accommodation, resort or amusement. A “yes” vote would preserve the law. A “no” vote would repeal it.
Cox and other speakers pointed to a recent New York Times story saying the Trump administration is considering rewriting federal policies to, essentially, codify gender and define transgender people out of existence.
“Massachusetts has an opportunity to send a message to this administration, has an opportunity to send a message to the rest of the country that this is not who we are as Americans, that this is not who we are as human beings, that we respect the humanity of everyone,” Cox said.
Another speaker, Alexandra Chandler, thanked fellow advocates for the “army of love of reinforcements that have come to support us,” and called for reframing the debate in a positive way: This is an opportunity for Massachusetts to show its leadership on social justice.
“Massachusetts, from the very beginning of this country, before we had a country, was at the forefront of leading this country,” Chandler said. “We saw that when we achieved marriage equality in Massachusetts. We saw that when we passed this law in the first place in Massachusetts. We saw that in modesty when we put me on a ballot for Congress in Massachusetts and when I won towns as a transgender candidate in Massachusetts.”
Chandler, one of 10 Democrats who ran in the primary for the Third Congressional District, was the state’s first openly transgender candidate for Congress.
Speakers also included transgender youth, including Lia, an elementary school student who said she feared for her rights outside of school if Question 3 is voted down, and Ashton Mota, a 14-year-old freshman from Lowell.
“Transgender youth throughout Massachusetts need to know that they matter, that we are worthy of protection, affirmation, and celebration,” Mota said.
“We need to move away from the conversations centered on rights and recenter our conversations on humanity,” he added. “Trans people are worthy of protection because I am human.”