Laverne Cox On Intersectionality, Joe Biden’s Inclusive Speech and Citi’s New True Name Program  

Laverne Cox - Getty - H 2019
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Emmy nominated actress and activist Laverne Cox has partnered with Citi to promote the bank’s True Name program, a first among major banks in allowing transgender and nonbinary people the opportunity to use their chosen names on credit cards. Previously, the feature was only available to those who underwent a legal name change.

"We believe that brands can make a real impact by standing up and having a voice on issues that matter," says Citi’s chief marketing officer Carla Hassan. "From offering customers the ability to use their chosen name on their credit cards to launching a national campaign that increases the visibility of trans and nonbinary people, we are proud to do just that. That said, we are only one piece here. Individuals, such as Laverne Cox, have long been instrumental at bringing authentic experiences front and center for trans and non-binary people. Together, we can make significant progress in helping the transgender and nonbinary community feel recognized, accepted and empowered."

Cox, who next stars in Promising Young Woman in December in addition to wrapping up filming of the Netflix limited series Inventing Anna, talked to The Hollywood Reporter by phone from her Los Angeles home about changing her name on ID documents, what safety has to do with it and how she felt watching Joe Biden’s recent speech — during which he gave a shout out to the transgender community for supporting his successful presidential bid.

What does the Citi True Name initiative mean to you?

When I found out about this, I thought about how meaningful it was for me 20 years ago when I changed my name legally, how amazing it felt when I got my ID in the mail that said Laverne Cox. When I would get carded or have to show ID documents, it was essential that it match who I was. A lot of people might not know that it's not always easy out there. Depending on where you live, sometimes the laws aren’t amenable to people easily changing their legal names. In cities like New York and Los Angeles, you can visit the [LGBTQ centers] to get it done, but in smaller cities, trans folks don't have always have access. It other places, it can be expensive. According to the latest trans survey, 68 percent of trans folks stated they don't have ID documents that match who they are. What’s so amazing [about what Citi is doing], is that it’s easy to do. This is an incredible service for trans and nonbinary people to have an ID document that match who they are. It’s everything.

Looking back on your experiences, was there a moment when you pulled out an ID that didn’t match your true self?

This isn’t exactly answering your question, but the story that I'll never forget is when I was at a bar in Union Square [in New York City] years ago waiting for my date to arrive. I got carded at the door and then when I got inside, I needed to go to the ladies' room. As I was approaching the restroom, a security guard asked to see my ID. I told him that I had been carded outside but he said he needed to see it again. In my mind, I’m like, OK, he’s trying to tell me that I can’t use the ladies' room, basically. I knew what was going on.  I pulled out my ID and showed it to him. He looked at it and he's like, "OK, go."

My ID had my name and the correct gender marker on it. If my ID did not reflect who I was presenting as and who I am, that could have been a moment where this security guard prevented me from using the ladies' room. Obviously, that’s deeply problematic on so many levels but there are situations like this where it’s not just unfortunate but it’s a safety issue. Companies like Citi are doing amazing things through the True Name Project at a time when it is the deadliest year on record for trans people.

How are you coping with that?

For me, it's about trying to find some sort of balance. I’m posting less about violence against trans people and trying to live less in that space. I bring it up now because it puts things in perspective. I executive produced the Netflix documentary Disclosure, that is now available, and the reason I bring it up is that in that film, we grapple with the reality that for trans people, like most marginalized groups, with increased visibility comes increased targeting or new levels of scrutiny. There are so many wonderful things to celebrate, but at the same time, they're all these [setbacks].

We’ve had unprecedented federal legislative assaults against trans people, basically, over the last five years. Even before that really, if we really want to be real. Ever since marriage equality became the law of the land, a lot of conservatives have been like, “Who can we target next?” They've chosen trans people. It’s important for me to be aware of that because it's part of my job to be aware of it and to make other people aware of it, but then also, at the same time, taking time to celebrate wonderful things. I’m thinking of the 1,400 people who’ve signed on with Citi to use their chosen names. That’s really exciting.

During President-elect Joe Biden's victory speech the other night, he singled out groups that helped secure him victory by mentioning progressives, moderates, conservatives, young, old, suburban, rural, gay, straight, transgender, and the list goes on. How did hearing him include trans voters in his speech make you feel?

When I think about presidents, specifically, who have uttered the word transgender, I think it was Barack Obama who became the first sitting president to do so. It was a really big deal. Obviously, the Obama administration also had specific policies in place to protect us. I get chills every time I think about Loretta Lynch, Obama’s attorney general, who in 2016 after North Carolina’s crazy anti-trans bathroom bill, she gave a press conference and announced that the Obama administration would sue the state of North Carolina for their discriminatory law. She basically said, 'We see you, we hear you, and we'll do everything we can to protect you.' It was just such a monumental moment.

It’s exciting to hear the word transgender uttered but then for me, the question becomes what are we going to do to back it up with policy. When it comes to politics, I'm intersectional. I am part of the trans community. I am a person of color. I am a woman who is interested in economic justice for poor and working-class people. I’m also someone who is interested in everyone having access to healthcare. So, I'm hopeful and excited that the incoming administration has made a commitment to the LGBTQ -plus community, but I’m also hopeful that there will be policies to support everyone who is marginalized in this country.

Sarah McBride, a transgender activist and politician, just won a Senate seat in Delaware in a decisive victory, another important milestone for the trans community. I’ve seen you interact on Twitter, do you know her or have you reached out?

I don't know Sarah well, I went, but I’m aware that she’s the first openly trans state senator elected in Delaware history, which is incredible. The excitement is two-fold for me. I'm aware that, as a trans person who has had a lot of firsts in my career that I'm really proud of and a wonderful life that I've been able to enjoy, it has not changed the material conditions for the majority of other trans people. Doors have been opened in my industry for sure because of my work and the work of others. I'm proud of that but a lot of times in our culture we’ll use Kamala Harris or Sarah McBride as a way of saying that it’s inclusive or diverse out there. Meanwhile, the majority of people of color and women are still struggling for basic human rights.

It’s very important to be tempered and to understand that it's not enough to elevate and put Black or trans faces in high places while still keeping the same policies that don't benefit the majority of those communities. What I've learned over the years is that there are two halves to the same whole, and those might be contradictory at the same time.