“Orange Is the New Black” actress Laverne Cox is not the first celebrity to speak at Florida International University, but for Joshua Chamberlain she was the first speaker he could identify with.
Chamberlain, 23, is a psychology major and he is also transgender.
“When I caught a glimpse of Laverne earlier, I got so excited, I almost started to cry,” said Chamberlain, who attended with his father. “She is what I aspire to be, confident in my own skin, proud and unapologetic of who I am.”
FIU’s Wolfe University Center ballroom on Tuesday was filled with 265 students and community members who came to hear Cox’s lecture, titled “Ain’t I a Woman: My Journey to Womanhood.”
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Cox talked about her upbringing in Mobile, Alabama, being bullied in school and the conflicts she had with her mother while trying to figure out who she was. She gave a detailed narration on her moving to New York City where she was finally able to accept herself and make the transition.
“I’m the kid no one liked, they made fun of and chased down to beat up,” Cox said. “I had enormous amount of shame of who I was.”
She also talked feminist theory, gender equality and her love of all things Beyoncé.
Cox encouraged the audience to have those difficult conversations in the community in order to create a safe space where you can take risks and make mistakes.
“A safe space is about acknowledging the humanity of other people and creating spaces where we can listen and learn,” Cox said. “To get to a better understanding of who the other person is and who you are. Remember empathy is the antidote to shame.”
FIU liberal studies student William Sturrup, 23, identified with Cox’s journey to seek family acceptance. Originally from the Bahamas, Sturrup came out as a gay man five years ago.
“Hers is a success story because she eventually got acceptance from her mother,” Sturrup said. “However, a lot of people from the queer community don’t get that from their families, but seeing her gives hope.”
Scheduled only for a 10-minute Q&A followed by her lecture, Cox extended the chat to 45 minutes. Whether asking about her activism — or asking for a hug — all of the audience had their questions answered.
“I feel recharged when I learn about the LGBTQ community and their stories,” Sturrup said. “I see myself in her.”