Emmys 2014: Transgender actress Laverne Cox makes Emmy history


“Orange Is the New Black” actress Laverne Cox knows her Emmy history. The self-described awards-show junkie even went online last night, checking out her Emmy chances on a predictions website, and went to bed thinking she didn’t have much of a chance of landing a nomination.

“I went to sleep and I let it go,” says Cox, a transgender actress who plays transgender inmate Sophia Burset on the Netflix show. “I said, ‘OK, God, I think the show’s going to be nominated. And that’s amazing.’ And I closed my eyes and let it go.”

Eight hours later, Cox woke up to discover she’d become the first openly transgender woman nominated for an Emmy award. Cox herself makes the distinction “openly trans,” as she says she knows of another transgender woman who won an Emmy years ago, but was not out. That minor qualification aside, she’s “over the moon, effervescent and every cliche that’s related to super-happy” about her “game-changing” Emmy nomination in the guest actress comedy category.



“Oh, my god, it’s going to take me awhile to get used to saying ‘Emmy-nominated actress,’” Cox said in a phone call from New York, where “Orange” is in production for its third season. “I only quit my restaurant job a year ago, so let me tell you, this is pretty good.”

GLAAD President and chief executive Sarah Kate Ellis hailed Cox’s nomination in a statement.

“Today, countless transgender youth will hear the message that they can be who they are and still achieve their dreams – nothing is out of reach,” Ellis said. “Laverne’s success on a hit series is a clear indication that audiences are ready for more trans characters on television.”

Ellis also pointed out that this year’s Emmy nominees included openly gay actors Jim Parsons, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Sarah Paulson and Kate McKinnon as well as shows (“Orange,” “Modern Family,” “Game of Thrones”) sporting LGBT characters and stories.

Cox believes that the media exposure will help the viewers who don’t know trans people to understand and connect with them, much in the same way that “Orange” fosters an empathy for its incarcerated characters. But she also cautions that the nation has a long way to go in accepting transgender people.


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“I’ve been thinking a lot about this,” Cox says. “I was on the cover of Time magazine in June and, that same month, four trans women of color were murdered in the United States. So just because I got an Emmy nomination doesn’t mean the lives of trans people aren’t in peril every day.”

Cox had the day off Thursday, having just returned from Vancouver where she was shooting a guest turn on the upcoming Bravo series, “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.” She says she hasn’t quite had the time to process the significance of her nomination.

“It’s so weird,” Cox says. “Part of me wonders why it’s me because there’s so many amazingly talented, smart, beautiful trans actors out there. It’s weird that it’s me having the big moment right now. There are people out there who deserve it as much and I’d like to send them a lot of love today.”

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