“I come to you today, a proud, black, transgender woman from a working class background, raised by a single mother. I come to you an artist, an actress, a producer, a girlfriend, a sister, and a daughter […] I am not just one thing, and neither are you,” said Daytime Emmy Award-winner, famed actress and producer, Laverne Cox at the 40th Annual Simmons Leadership Conference (SLC).

“I am not a mistake, I am divinely made,” said Cox to the 3,400 attendees on Tuesday morning.

As the morning segment keynote speaker, Cox reflected on her ever-changing outlook on life, from shame to pride through experiences with bullying, self-love, and trauma surrounding the struggles of gender identity.

“I was deeply shamed about something that felt very organic and natural to me,” said Cox on her earliest memories in Mobile, Alabama of internalized femininity, something her teachers and family taught her to suppress.

“I had all these misconceptions about who transgender people were based on what I’d seen in the media […] I didn’t associate being transgender with being successful and accomplished.”

Over the course of her young-adult life, Cox found herself enrolled at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, where she became a dance major before landing in New York to pursue acting at Marymount Manhattan College.

“New York City represented, for me, the place, the space of ultimate possibility […] my education really happened in the nightclubs,” said Cox.

After a few reputable roles on television including appearances on VH1’s I Want to Work for Diddy and self-produced series TRANSform Me, Cox landed the recurring role of Sophia Burset on hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black.

Cox divulged her more recent challenges of coping with trauma response and triggered anxiety through therapy, and left the audience with a call to action for transgender rights: “You are the person who needs to spearhead the movement.”

After her speech, audience members had the opportunity to ask Cox questions. Several were from parents looking for advice on addressing  their children’s questions about gender identity. Cox answered with what she would have liked to have known as a child.

“What I needed to hear, particularly from my mother, was that I’m beautifully made, that I’m here for a reason, and not only am I loved, but that I am lovable,” said Cox.

The conference was held at the Seaport World Trade Center on Tuesday, April 2 from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Designing Success was this year’s theme, a perfect topic with the conference falling ironically on Equal Pay Day, a date commemorating the extra days females must work to catch up with previous year male earnings.


“We all have the gifts to be competitors, it’s our choice if we want to go out there and win,” said O’Malley.


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