Transphobic attacks like the one against Laverne Cox happen daily. Here’s why it’s important to keep talking about them.

Taryn Ryder
·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
·7 min read

Laverne Cox and her friend were victims of a transphobic attack three days ago — and not enough people are talking about it and what it means, say transgender-rights advocates.

Cox, best known for playing Sophia Burset in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, revealed on Instagram that she was targeted while walking in Los Angeles. The Emmy-nominated actress gave a sobering account of the ordeal and the underlying message: “It doesn’t matter who you are... if you’re trans, you’re going to experience stuff like this.”

Following the incident, Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), spoke with Yahoo Life about how anti-trans violence is on the rise, and why so many altercations go unreported. Cooper says she was in “shock” hearing about the incident involving Cox.

“I was in shock not just because it’s still happening, but suddenly it happened to someone that everyone knows and that a lot more people care about,” Cooper shares.

On Saturday, Cox was walking with a male friend in Los Angeles’s Griffith Park when a man “very aggressively” approached them asking for the time. The man then asked “Guy or girl?” and physically assaulted the actress’s friend when he told him to “f*** off.” Cox called 911, but the assailant fled. Cox said she was left “triggered” by the violent encounter and is currently dealing with the emotional aftermath.

People who are transgender or non-binary — meaning one’s gender identity and/or expression is neither man nor woman — are attacked “daily,” Cooper notes. It’s just that those incidents “don’t make it in the paper.” As for why some assaults go unreported, Cooper says there are multiple societal contributors.

“I can speak from personal experience. Many of us feel the police don’t care,” she says. “That comes from having interactions with police before, where police, because of our gender identity, may have discredited our story, or felt we caused something simply because of who we are, both of which are wrong and inappropriate.”

In an update on Monday, Cox explained that she’s feeling “shame” in the wake of the incident.

Here's why we need to keep talking about the transphobic attack against Laverne Cox.
Here's why we need to keep talking about the transphobic attack against Laverne Cox and her friend. (Photo: Getty Images)

“I’m not in the best headspace,” the actress told her followers on Instagram. “I think the shame piece is about my whole history of sort of being targeted in violence when I was a kid.” Cox said she’s working through feeling that she somehow “deserved to be targeted.”

Cox added, “Those are the old messages that come up when something like this happened.”

Cooper noted that the emotional trauma of coming forward can, in some instances, be as painful as the act of violence itself.

“There are some trans people who feel that by reporting it, they’re subjecting themselves to more violence by institutions that are there to protect them,” the advocate explains. “So, they would rather deal with one act of violence [than report it].”

In 2020, at least 40 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed by violent means, the majority of which were Black and Latinx transgender women, according to the HRC.

“When we aggregate the information and we look at race of victims of folks who have said that they have been victimized and either didn’t report or did report, we know that by and large so many more are Black and brown trans and non-binary people,” Cooper states. “To take it another step further, when we look at fatal violence… it is absolutely unbelievable.”

Cooper estimates there are two million trans and non-binary people in the U.S. “To still think in a year of a pandemic that 40 folks have been murdered, it’s unbelievable,” she adds.

In order to help protect the community, Cooper said there needs to be more accountability from both legal and societal standpoints.

“There should be better federal laws and hate crime legislation,” she explains, adding that hate crime legislation must be enforced. “[Laws] aren’t useful unless they are being enforced. There’s got to be stronger laws and penalties for this kind of stuff.”

Cooper continues, “And then we have to really, really change people’s culture. We’ve had four years of the federal government essentially telling anybody who will listen that trans people don’t matter and that our lives are not real and valid. We have to recondition folks to first of all understand that that’s not true. Then to re-train folks to actually care about human beings again.”

President Donald Trump has rolled back protections for trans people throughout his term. Since 2017, according to Human Rights Watch, the administration has withdrawn regulatory protections for transgender children in schools, fought recognition of transgender people under federal employment laws, banned transgender people from serving in the military, rolled back protections for transgender people in prisons, and threatened to cut off funding to schools that let transgender girls participate in sports. In June, the administration announced it would revoke trans health protection, though the attempt was blocked by a federal judge.

But people took notice of all the rollbacks, and, Cooper notes, now the trans and non-binary community is large enough “that we have a voice and we have votes that matter.”

“I’m very, very hopeful of the Biden-Harris administration,” she says. “Vice President-elect Harris has a very long history of advocating for trans and LGBTQ+ rights. And President-elect Biden, certainly in the last few years of the Obama-Biden administration, got on board and moved to really be much more inviting and right some wrongs that other administrations had done, and perhaps some that even their administration had done.”

Cooper continues, “For the first time, we have a president who is walking into the White House already in favor of marriage equality, already in favor of trans rights, already supportive of hate crime legislation… so we have to be optimistic. And we also have to hold them accountable.”

She’s hopeful that some good will come out of Cox being so open about the transphobic attack.

“I think what happens is because Laverne Cox has so much more visibility, at some point, there’s going to be a larger public outcry,” she explains. “The fact we are having this conversation now, I think it’s going to bring some positive light to a negative situation.”

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