OITNB‘s Laverne Cox reveals one major misconception about trans people

Last week, Laverne Cox traveled to Washington, D.C., for the unveiling of an art exhibit unlike any other — an installation created from personal testimonies of solidarity for the LGBT community, gathered by Marriott Rewards as part of the #LoveTravels initiative.

For Cox, a trans woman of color, the experience was stirring, to say the least. “I walked over earlier today and watched them install this huge installation that was several walls deep of these beautiful expressions of love for transgender people, and it was really moving to see all of that,” she shared from the gallery when we caught up with her on June 10.

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“Did you know that there were over 3500 submissions from people in over 100 countries wanting to show their love and support for trans people?” asked Cox, who currently stars as Sophia Burset on the hit Netflix series Orange Is the New Black.

Love Travels
Image: Jon Fleming Photography

“That is a really beautiful thing, especially in a world that still sometimes shows trans people that we aren’t worthy of love and belonging and living our dreams.”

Cox’s words — shared only two days shy of the mass shooting at Orlando’s LGBT nightclub, Pulse — feel especially weighted now.

Enjoying a sense of safety while traveling is a notion that sounds implicitly simple. How often do those of us who are straight or cisgender or white (or, like me, all of the above) take such seemingly unalienable comforts for granted?

Enter Marriott’s #LoveTravels campaign, which the company created to help foster a sense of inclusion for the LGBT community. In light of recent events, it’s painfully apparent that inclusivity and acceptance are needed more than ever.

Needed in both word and action, Cox underscores. “Love is a word that is often thrown around, but the idea of love traveling essentially becomes a statement of healing,” she said. “We can send love out into the world, and it can come back to us. It can heal the world.”

More: 25 LGBT quotes packed with pride

The tragic truth, of course, is that the world is very much in need of healing — and above and beyond being marginalized, members of the LGBT community are often targeted. “There are a lot of places in the world where it’s not safe to be trans,” Cox lamented. “Even here in the United States, it’s very dangerous just to be a trans person.”

This is precisely why, says Cox, it is so important for companies and businesses to be transparent about their policies. She explained, “I think corporations need to let the public know that they support diversity and inclusion, and that they have the backs of people in this community. I want to support businesses that support me… so it’s about love reaching into those spaces, where there are unsafe places, and having companies who are saying, ‘OK, we’re safe.'”

The hope with Marriott’s #LoveTravels initiative, as well as Cox’s personal commitment to advocating for the community, is that it will spark the kind of impactful conversations that incite change and understanding. While campaigns like this are undoubtedly a good thing, they also illuminate that there are still so many invisible boundaries the LGTB community faces every single day.

In regard to the trans community, Cox points to one major misconception the media and society doesn’t seem to grasp.

“I think people want to assume there’s just one trans narrative and then want to say, ‘Oh, I’ve got it,'” she said. “And it’s not just one trans narrative. It’s so many stories. It’s so many experiences. Everyone’s experience of their gender is different! Is about viewing the people as individuals and viewing their experiences as individual — and understanding that for all of what we may have thought we may have known about transgender people, we just have to get to know trans people as individuals.”

This point is particularly salient to Cox, as she recently joined members of Congress on Capitol Hill to support the LGBT Data Inclusion Act. Introduced by Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, the legislation would require the U.S. census and other federal surveys to ask voluntary questions about sexual orientation and gender identity (along with the usual questions about race, age, etc.).

More: What Laverne Cox wants society to know about straight men dating trans women

Cox said, “Right now, we don’t count LGBT people in the United States, quite literally. We don’t actually know how many LGBT people exist in the United States. We don’t know how many trans people, because we don’t actually ask sexual orientation and gender identity questions. We’re nearly unaccounted for.”

Love Travels
Image: Jon Fleming Photography

On a systematic level, the LGBT community is essentially being told they don’t exist. This is problematic on many levels, including the fact that it opens the door to fallacies.

“It’s very easy to make up stories about who LGBT people are, because we don’t have the demographic data to support the reality we live by,” said Cox. “This is a democracy — everyone should count. And I think that’s what Love Travels is about… counting the lives of people who have been discounted for far too long.”

For each submission to Love Travels, Marriott is making a donation to Casa Ruby, an LGBT organization providing lifesaving services for the most vulnerable members of the community. Head to Casa Ruby’s website to learn how you can help.