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Laverne Cox at 50: fabulous and kicking off pride with renewed purpose

In celebration of LGBTQ pride, the trailblazing actor reflects on living her dream and being a “love warrior.”
/ Source: TODAY

Laverne Cox is 50 and fabulous as ever. 

Just days after celebrating a milestone birthday and the launch of her own Barbie as part of Mattel’s Tribute Collection, the actor and activist set the tone on the decade ahead with one thing: gratitude. 

Known for breaking barriers, Cox traced her journey back with an optimism that’s inspiring. “I’m so grateful for every single painful, traumatic moment I’ve had in my life, believe it or not, because I have learned from it,” the four-time Emmy nominee told TODAY via Zoom.

Cox’s résumé is full of a lot of firsts.

A Very Barbie Birthday Celebrating Laverne Cox's 50th Year on the Planet at Magic Hour at Moxy Times Square
Laverne Cox and guests attend A Very Barbie Birthday Celebrating Laverne Cox's 50th Year On The Planet.Monica Schipper / Getty Images for  Laverne Cox

She first rose to prominence in 2013 on the Netflix hit “Orange Is the New Black.” Her turn as Sophia Burset earned her an Emmy nomination, making her the first trans person to be nominated in an acting category at that ceremony. She later won a Daytime Emmy for her documentary project, “Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word,” and is the first trans person to ever win that award. She is the first trans person to cover Time magazine, to have a wax statue at Madame Tussauds, and with last week’s announcement by Mattel, to have a Barbie modeled after her image.

While the lessons learned along the way have made it all worth it, it’s not lost on her that there’s more to do for the LGBTQ community at large. Kicking off Pride Month fresh from her glossy birthday party in New York, she’s aware that her own success is just the beginning for trans people worldwide. “I do believe that representation matters. I know it can save lives, but representation isn’t enough,” she said.

A Very Barbie Birthday Celebrating Laverne Cox's 50th Year on the Planet at Magic Hour at Moxy Times Square
“Love is not a feeling. It’s an action." Monica Schipper / Getty Images for  Laverne Cox

In a year that’s seen nearly 240 pieces of legislation introduced targeting LGBTQ youth across the country, Cox pointed out that her impact is just one piece of the greater picture. 

Real progress also requires lawmakers acting to end these attacks on the community to remove the “systemic barriers in place,” according to Cox. This is essential to protect trans people, who also face disproportionate levels of violence despite heightened visibility in popular culture, she said. “With all the amazing things happening in my life and the beautiful visibility that I get to experience and other trans people get to experience, there is also the backlash to that visibility,” she shared.

Where to begin? 

“We need to start talking about money and politics more,” Cox urged, adding, “we have a system of legal bribery in this country.” From ending mass shootings to protecting human rights, bringing attention to what she describes as a corrupt legal system by “following the money” and visiting OpenSecrets — a nonpartisan group that tracks political donations — are ways Cox points to as major keys to level the playing field.

In addition to systemic change, the barrier breaker took the chance to remind us that pride is as much about celebrating each other as it is about looking within. “It really has to start with each of us as individuals, always being willing to interrogate where we are psychologically, emotionally and politically,” she said.

94th Academy Awards - Red Carpet
Laverne Cox arrives at the 94th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood on Sunday, March 27, 2022.Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

As for what keeps her spirits high in the ongoing fight for equality, Cox attributes her inner glow to a long lineage of “love warriors.” “LGBTQ people, we created community and chosen family for decades,” she said. As often as she can be seen gracing screens in her acting or reporting live from Hollywood’s red carpets as a newly appointed E! News host, she also spreads joy to her 5.7 million Instagram followers on a regular basis with infectiously fun dance videos straight from her glam room. “It’s a part of my legacy as a Black person, a part of my legacy as a part of the LGBTQ+ community,“ she said, adding, “I want to be a love warrior.” 

Cox makes sure she honors the luminaries who came before her as well. Last year, she opened up about the importance of Tracey “Africa” Norman, the first known Black trans model who graced the front of a Clairol box in 1975. “It's so vital that Tracey’s story is told, that we understand that trans is not a recent phenomenon, that we’ve always been here,” Cox told TODAY in 2021. “I’m so grateful to Tracey for living her life, following her dreams and surviving so that we can all bask in her testimony.”

It all comes back to self-love for Cox whose energy is as vibrant as ever with a renewed sense of purpose to inspire her community and the world. As Pride Month kicks off and the world prepares to celebrate and commemorate a longtime struggle for securing equal rights, Cox is bringing it back to the basics of self-love.

When it comes to defining self-love, the trailblazer explained it simply as can be: “Love is not a feeling. It’s an action."

“It’s how I’m actively treating myself,” she added. “It's a set of actions that I take toward myself with the people in my life.”

The intention is a heartfelt one that applies to celebrating pride but also setting the tone for the decade ahead. “That’s the real intention: that pure energy of authentic power,” she said. “I want that to radiate from me as much as possible. … I just want to live in that.”

To commemorate her birthday, Cox shared video poolside in a bikini. For others, this may just be a regular, celebratory post but for her, it carries extra significance. The caption was short, “50…  this what it look like.” Her statement is simple but a far-reaching one for a trans woman entering this next act of her life when so many do not: I am here.