“It’s a landmark win,” Laverne Cox tells ET’s Nischelle Turner about the Supreme Court’s decision over workplace discrimination. Monday’s ruling adds LGBTQ people to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, making it illegal for an employer to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. “I am still, honestly, overwhelmed. I really can’t believe it.”
“I think because the makeup of the court is very conservative, we didn’t have high expectations of this,” the “Orange Is the New Black” star continues, noting she was surprised by the 6-3 ruling. “There are so many moments in our country where justice is not served, but in this moment, in the United States of America, the Supreme Court affirmed that firing someone from their job [for being gay or transgender is illegal].”
She adds that “some people did not live to see this day but they were part of it,” referring to Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman who was at the centre of one of the cases brought before the Supreme Court. “She is dead now. But she is affirmed!”
How Stephens’ actions led to major change in America makes Cox think of everyone who has been protesting for Black Lives Matter following the recent killings of several Black people. “Their voices matter,” she says. “You can make a difference and this case proves that.”
The decision also comes a day after thousands of people gathered in various parts of the country to rally for the Black Transgender Lives movement, especially after the recent deaths of Dominique Fells and Riah Milton. “It was such a beautiful sight,” Cox says. “That is the result of years of activism. The moment we saw in Brooklyn, L.A. and around the country was the result of years of activism. Result of countless lives of Black trans women, LGBT people of colour, being taken away from us by the state and fellow citizens. This is just the beginning.”
She continues by adding that “this Supreme Court victory is huge but it doesn’t bring these people back. It doesn’t change the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens who are murdering us and discriminating us around race, gender and sexual orientation. We have to look inside ourselves and ask how do I internalize the value systems that devalue the lives of trans people and Black people… Then, when we change policies, it can stick and it will mean something because the hearts and minds have also changed.”
Also helping to change the way people view the LGBTQ community, especially transgender people, is visibility onscreen. “Disclosure”, the new Netflix documentary directed by Sam Feder and executive produced by Cox, examines the history of transgender visibility from the earliest days of cinema to TV’s current scripted dramas — and how that has evolved over decades.
Premiering June 19, the film features interviews with Cox as well as Lilly Wachowski, Yance Ford, Mj Rodriguez, Jamie Clayton and Chaz Bono and more as they share their own experiences of seeing themselves represented (or misrepresented) onscreen in everything from “Dog Day Afternoon” to “The Crying Game”, and shows like “The Jeffersons”, “The L-Word” and “Pose”.
.@Disclosure_Doc — from director Sam Feder and producer Laverne Cox — features interviews with MJ Rodriguez, Jamie Clayton, Jen Richards, Lilly Wachowski, Yance Ford, and more in taking a vital and unprecedented look at the history of trans representation across film and TV pic.twitter.com/yJTNKf765o
— Netflix (@netflix) June 11, 2020
One of the reasons Cox wanted to do this film was to get to the root of where people’s biases against others come from. “Where does that start? It comes from the media,” Cox says. “One of the things that stuck with me in Ferguson in 2014, the grand jury testimony came out from the officer who shot Michael Brown in the streets, he said he felt like a demon was coming for him. So if that is the truth, where does it come from that he can see this 18-year-old child, who happens to look like a tall Black man, is a demon?”
She explains that “It started with media: depicting Black men as savages. That unconscious idea of who Black people are has been perpetuated over and over again in cinema.”
“Now we have to really unpack our minds and understand the biases we have about who trans people are. Where they come from,” Cox continues. “We can unlearn them together and we can move forward in a new way. We have to continue doing that with race in this country.”