[“Flawless” by Beyoncé plays as Laverne Cox comes onstage, grooves a lil bit, lip-syncs the ‘bow down bitches’ line]
Alright! Alright, everybody sit down. Oh, my goodness, oh. [mouths ‘wow’]
Oh, you’re gonna make me cry!
Creating Change 2014, how are you feeling tonight?
I-I don’t know if I believe you. Creating Change 2014, how you feeling tonight!
Oh, jesus. I love you back! I love you back, baby, yes I do. Ima that, muah! I love you. I, I’d like to thank Cate Clinton for that lovely introduction, make some noise for Kate Clinton. And I’d like to thank everybody at the task force who made me being here possible tonight. Special shout-out to Daniel Pino, Mark Daley, Rea Carey, and recent hire at the Task Force brother Kylar Broadus—where is Kylar, is Kylar in the house? We love you Kylar Broadus, yes, yes we do!
Oh my god, this feels so amazing, all this love that you’re giving me tonight, I have—I have to say that a black transgender woman, from a working class background, raised by a single mother—that’s me—getting all this love tonight, this feels like the change I need to see more of in this country.
Cornel West reminds us, you’ve heard me say this a billion times, but justice is what love looks like in public, and this feels so just right now, yes. But– but I have to tell you, I have to tell you that I am not used to receiving this kind of love, everybody. I’m not used to it.
I’m, I’m trying, you know, some days [laughs] some days I wake up and I’m that three-, four-, five-; twelve-, thirteen-, fourteen-year-old kid in Mobile, Alabama who was bullied. Some days I wake up and I’m, I’m that kid who’s being chased home from school practically every day by groups of kids who wanted to beat me up because I did not act the way that people who are assigned male at birth are supposed to act.
Some days I wake up and I’m that sixth grader who swallowed a bottle of pills because I did not want to be myself anymore because I did not know how to be anybody else. And who I was, I was told was a sin, a problem, and I didn’t want to exist. Some days I wake up and I am that black, trans woman walking the streets of New York City hearing people yell, That’s a man, to me.
And I understand, I’ve come to understand that when a trans woman is called a man, that is an act of violence.
Some days I, I wake up and I am just a girl who wants to be loved, but I was told on more than one occasion by a man who told me that he loved me that he could not be seen in public with me, could not introduce me to friends and family because I am trans, and not only because I am trans, because people can tell I am trans. I am not passable enough by certain standards.
Some days I wake up and I don’t feel good enough. Because I’ve heard that over and over again. I’ve heard it from men I’ve dated, I’ve heard it from members of my own community who told me that I am not passable enough, that I should not go and get surgery for this and that and then I will be an acceptable trans woman.
Some days, I wake up and I have heard about another one of my transgender sisters who has been assaulted, raped, murdered.
And there’s no justice.
There will be justice.
Some days I wake up and it is just too much. It is too much to deal with, it’s too–there’s too much pain, there’s too much cultural trauma around being who I am. But. But then I think, I think we are a resilient people, I think about so many people—[applause] Yes. So many people who’ve come before me who made me being on this stage possible, people like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson.
People like Miss Major.
People like Monica Roberts, Kylar Broadus.
People like Candice Cayne, who in 2007 became the first trans woman to have a recurring role on a primetime TV show. I would not be here without Candice Cayne.
And in the face of so much injustice, we are a resilient people. We are a fierce people. We are a beautiful people. I– I am so blessed, this past year I’ve gotten to- to meet so many people in our community. I’ve traveled across the country, and I, one major event for me happened last year in March, in Chicago.
Chicago’s in the house?
And it was the first ever Trans 100. The realization of the dream of Antonia D’Orsay and Jen Richards—and I think they’re here tonight, yeah? How you doing. Love you.
And-and it was so powerful being in the room with , in in an event created by and for trans people—what we were celebrating each other, doing it for ourselves. It was major for me, it– it shifted my thinking about who I am and what is possible, and I, and I found out about Chicago House TransLife Center. If you don’t know about Chicago House’s TransLife center, you need to find out. They’re doing amazing work, amazing amazing work.
There are so many folks doing amazing work all over this country. I got to meet Ruby Corado last year. She is the founder of Casa Ruby in Washington D.C., and she does, she does amazing outreach to the trans, specifically the trans Latina, communities, and– and Ruby is doing this work with so few resources but a lot of love and a lot of resilience. Now there’s a lot of people in this room tonight that might have some access to some resources that Ruby could use. There, so Ruby’s right there so you need to go in and talk to Ruby. She needs– she needs the money to keep doing this powerful work, the—
The reality– the reality is there are a lot of amazing people who are unsung, trans people who are unsung doing incredible work all over this country. I, um, many of you know that I had the pleasure of spending some time with a woman by the name of CeCe McDonald.
As many of you know, CeCe is now free.
For those of you who don’t know, CeCe McDonald is a beautiful, vibrant, brilliant African American transgender woman who on June 5th 2011 was just walking down the street with a group of her friends. And she heard racist slurs, anti-trans slurs, anti-gay slurs. And a fight broke out, and one of her attackers ended up dead. White supremacist, by the way, he had swastika tattoos on his chest. And CeCe was arrested on the spot, the only person arrested that night, and CeCe had a glass slashed in her face, her salivary gland was severed, she was bleeding, defending herself because she refused to be a statistic.
In this room, we are all familiar with the unfortunate statistics of the homicide rate of trans women in our community. It’s the highest—over 53% of GBTQ homicides in 2012 were trans women; 73% were people of color. But CeCe said, I will not go out like that.
And I have had the pleasure not only of meeting CeCe but of meeting the people who, who made us aware of CeCe’s story. CeCe had an amazing support team—Katie Burgess, um, EdTyson[?], the Trans Support Network in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Billy, um, near—I can’t think of Billy’s last name [laughs] [shout from audience]— thank you, Billy Navarro! Billy’s gonna kill me— and Billy Navarro and so many others on CeCe’s support staff who, who made sure that CeCe, while she was incarcerated, was not going to be disappeared.
Billy said something really powerful to me – we’re making a documentary about CeCe McDonald, and about the culture of violence against trans women, and when I spoke to Billy for the first time, Billy said to me about the, the media coverage of CeCe in the beginning of her case, said the media was upset because CeCe had the audacity to survive.
And– and trans women of color are not supposed to survive. We so often, so often people seem to prefer us to be dead. We have our Transgender Day of Remembrance, where it seems like one of the few times where people seem to speak the names of trans women– usually trans women and trans women of color.
And CeCe survived. And there are so many survivors out there, but CeCe’s survival and and her , her resilience was made possible because – because she was brilliant and she was amazing and she lead her support team in a, in an amazing way. But it was also possible because of the work of grassroots activists in Minneapolis Minnesota.
If it were not for those activists, we would— the story of CeCe Mcdonald would be what mainstream media wanted to tell us about her. They made sure we knew the real story. They made sure that we knew that CeCe was attacked because she was black, because she was trans, because she was a woman. And that she was railroaded by the criminal justice system because of all those things.
They’re doing amazing work in Minneapolis, but it’s with very few resources. They can use some resources in Minneapolis, Minnesota, too.
…After interviewing CeCe for the first time I, I visited her in when she was still incarcerated, in November of last year. And it was really emotional for me, but my biggest takeaway from the whole experience is that, I said to Jack Garress[?], my director, um, for the documentary—CeCe knows that she’s loved. It was so powerful to me that she would have such a positive and upbeat attitude considering everything that she has gone through.
She was – she was like my character on Orange Is the New Black, she was denied the proper dosage of hormones. And she advocated for herself, her supporters on the outside advocated for her, and she got the correct dosage.
On three different occasions, she was placed in solitary confinement, which is the practice for housing trans people far too often when they are incarcerated, but she advocated for herself and people on the outside advocated for her and got her out of solitary confinement.
For me, the way in which CeCe advocated for herself and the way in which her support community advocated for her is a template for how we can do activism all over this country. And it started, it started with CeCe, and it started with her having this profound sense of love for herself that everyone around her felt. Everybody I talked to who’s come in contact with CeCe talks about this woman who inspired them and who had so much hope and propelled them to have hope to and to fight for her behalf. Love, for a black trans woman, freed her, and kept her safe on the inside. Loving trans people, I believe, is a revolutionary act.
And I believe when we love someone, we respect them, and we listen to them, we feel that their voice matters. And- and we let them dictate the terms of who they are and what their story is.
Now, now, um, Kate Clinton mentioned uh—an interview that I did on this show, on the Katie Couric show? [cheers] And, for me, that moment was a really amazing example of creating change.
And I only want to take partial credit for it [laughs]. It was Carmen Carrera saying that [cheering]— Carmen Carrera insisting that there are certain things about her that are private, that trans bodies are not to be subject to everyone’s gaze, [cheering and applause] and and objectification.
And I was so happy and honored to be able to have her back, on national television. Trans women supporting and loving each other is a revolutionary act.
Someone tweeted to me—my dear friend Janet Mock—y’all know Janet Mock? Her book Redefining Realness comes out Tuesday, I hope you all pre-ordered it. It’s major. But Janet and I were tweeting each other, and and I, I support her and love her and she’s shown similar lonve and support of me, and someone tweeted hashtag-the-scarcity-model-is-a-myth, that, that that we don’t need to be fighting each other for resources. There is enough to go around.
There is enough spotlight to go around if we love each other, and if– and if we remain teachable. I think that the biggest thing about the Katie Couric moment is that she did a follow-up on that Friday, saying that that moment was a teachable moment for her. And many of us have watched, for my entire life I’ve watched television, and watched folks interview trans people and ask all these invasive questions. I’ve been asked these questions on television before. But never before have I seen, in mainstream media, a discussion about what is appropriate and not appropriate to ask trans people.
And that is the change. That is a change, that is a change that we really really need. We can set the conversation. Jennifer Finney Boylan, she tweeted to me that for the first time we are setting the agenda for how our stories should be told. In mainstream media. Because we’ve been doing it for a long time, it just hasn’t gone mainstream—right?
And I want to let you know that it is because of you that the change happened. It wasn’t just about Carmen and me. It was about all of the tweets, and the blogs that you wrote, and the articles that you wrote and the radio shows you went on to talk about it afterwards and the other TV shows you went on and said, this is not acceptable.
And this is not to demonize Katie Couric, I love Katie Couric, but Katie Couric was just following the lead of so many journalists and talk show hosts over the years. For the past sixty years since Christine Jorgensen stepped off the plane, the conversation about trans people and mainstream media has centered on transition and surgery. And even when there are humanizing moments, that the, it is my contention that the transition and surgery conversation becomes the big take-away, becomes the sensational moment, and our humanity is left in the dust. And so much of the injustice that too many of us experience is not talked about.
We are changing the conversation right now.
[cheers and applause]
I- I am so happy to be a working actor, I mean it’s just [laugh] it’s a big deal. And on Orange Is the New Black, I play an incarcerated trans woman who, who is in prison because um, she… stole some credit cards. To finance her transition. Healthcare for trans people is a necessity.
It is not elective, it is not cosmetic, it is life-saving.
But we are more than our bodies. [from audience: “Yes!”]
We are more than our bodies. The criminalization of trans people is, is so pervasive in this culture. CeCe McDonald’s case is one example, and I am sure many of you are aware of a sixteen-year-old girl in California by the name of Jewlyes Gutierrez. Sixteen years old and, and was bullied like so many transgender youth; 78% of trans youth in grades K-12 experience harassment and bullying in school. Seventy-eight percent—that is unacceptable.
And after being taunted over, and over, and over again, Jewlyes defended herself. She and the, and the folks who bullied here were all suspended, but the District Attorney decided he would arrest her for assault.
For being bullied and defending herself. And she is the only one arrested, this—this pisses me off.
[noise and cheering from audience]
There is a system in place which seeks to make trans people, particularly trans people of color, disappear. And part of that is the criminal justice system.
I live in New York City now where there’ve been a lot of conversations about the stop-and-frisk policy and reforming it, but there really hasn’t been enough talk about how that policy affects trans people, particularly trans women of color.
Trans women are far too often profiled as sex workers and arrested, if they have more than one condom in their purse. This is a practice that happens all over the world. Criminalized simply for wearing a short skirt in the wrong neighborhood.
That shit is fucked up.
But that is part of a larger culture which assumes that trans people are illegitimate, that we are fake, that we are always and only the gender that we were assigned at birth. Arizona tried to criminalize going to the bathroom for transgender people. [noise from audience] Amen. Give it up! That was stopped.
But these are the fights that we have to wage every day just to, just have a sense of, of legitimacy. But we are resilient people, and we’re strong, and there are so many of you creating that change right here, right now, and back in your home cities. I’m—I’m—wow. [deep breath]
[shots from audience of “We love you!” and then cheering]
I love you back. I really do, you really don’t know, it’s just— [deep breath]
It really is a big deal to, to have this kind of support, um, being who I am and, and I hope it, I want everybody to get this, I want everybody to get this kind of love, I want to spread it around. I want to spread it around, I-I want to close by um, talking about a dear friend of mine, um, Jeremiah Johnson, who’s here somewhere. He is a brilliant AIDS activist and we were um, I has having a little freakout about my talk here tonight earlier today, and we were sitting in my hotel room chatting, and Jeremiah reminded me that he and I have these really difficult conversations across difference. Jeremiah is, is HIV-positive, and um, he reminded me that we’ve had difficult conversations where I didn’t exactly know what was the right thing to say to him, as an HIV-positive person, and he has not always known what the right thing to say to me, as a trans woman, but we still have the conversations. And we have them—
We have those conversations with love, and with empathy, and, and with a desire to get to a level of understanding that we didn’t have before. And we want to support each other, and we want to be there for each other.
And I believe these are the kinds of conversations that we need to have more of in our community, where we are really there for each other across difference, because we are all LGBTQ, queer, you know, we have, but we have all these differences. We have so much that, that we have in common, but we have so many ways that make us different. And we can have conversations across those differences with love, and empathy, and vulnerability.
And so as we embark on creating change 2014, I want to, to, to send a lot of love to each and every one of you and, and implore you to have conversations over the next few days with love towards one another and, and yourselves
—You know the whole , I want to say the whole self-love thing has always been kind of baffling to me, I’ve always been like love myself, how the heck am I supposed to do that! And, and I believe now I’m starting to understand, a little bit of what it means—that I don’t internalize all the negative things and negative stereotypes that people have about trans women of color. I don’t do that number on myself anymore. I don’t— [cheering] I don’t date men anymore who are ashamed to be seen in public with me. [more cheering]
I am starting to believe that in the deepest core of myself, that I am beautiful, I am smart, I am amazing.
And I want to give that to each and every one of you because you are beautiful, smart, and amazing. Happy Creating Change 2014, I love you all!
[blows kisses to audience, “Flawless” by Beyoncé plays]
Thank you so much!
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