Today (October 8), the Supreme Court will determine whether it’s legal to fire or discriminate against individuals in the workplace due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. Laverne Cox is proving that in the midst of receiving all her accolades, awards and acknowledgments in Hollywood, she will never stop championing for her LGBTQ+ community. That’s why she partnered with BAND-AID Brand, Johnson & Johnson, and (RED) to #BandTogether in the fight against HIV/AIDS. With every purchase of (BAND-AID) RED bandages, the brands will provide a day’s worth of life-saving medication to someone living with HIV.
BET caught up with Laverne Cox to discuss her BAND-AID x RED partnership, her continuous fight for LGBTQ+ rights, and what she would like her legacy to be!
BET: What made you want to partner with BAND-AID and RED in their fight to end HIV/AIDs?
Laverne Cox: BAND-AID is partnering with RED, and RED has been doing work since 2006 to end HIV/AIDS. But they also provide education and prevention and treatment for folks, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa who are affected by HIV and AIDS. So the purchase of one box of these gorgeous BAND-AID, available exclusively at CVS and CVS.com can provide a day's worth of life saving medication for someone living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. And RED has been partnering with the global fund since 2006.
There's also education prevention that making sure folks have condoms and access to them and how to use them. When people buy their (RED) Band-Aids, we're encouraging them to post a lovely selfie on the 'gram, with hashtag #bandtogether, and, then, hopefully have conversations with their friends and family about HIV and AIDS and what's going on. So that we can continue to be educated about this.
BET: What does all of this mean to you personally?
LC: I've known a lot of folks over the years, unfortunately, who I've lost to HIV and AIDS. Way too many people. I'm always asking myself, ‘What more can I do for the people that I've lost? For the people I know who are living with HIV, who are incredible people?’ I still see the stigma surrounding some of them around HIV and AIDS.
I don't know if everybody knows that there's a pill that you can take now proven to keep you from becoming HIV positive. Over 30 million people are living with HIV globally, according to the latest statistics, 1.7 million people are infected yearly. In a time when we can prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS through medication, through condom use, et cetera, people are still contracting it. So what's the disconnect there? Something I just learned is that HIV/AIDS is the number one disease killer for young people ages 15 to 29 globally. So of all the diseases out there, young people are dying more from HIV and AIDs more than any other disease; a disease that's preventable, a disease that's treatable. So what this is doing, in a very concrete way, is providing money to for a particular part of the world to keep this from spreading.
BET: We loved your dress at the Emmys and were really drawn to your Edie Parker clutch with #TransIsBeautiful on it. How do you integrate fashion and advocacy to spread awareness using your platform?
LC: This year, when I was nominated for my third Emmy for Orange Is the New Black, I was shocked and almost immediately I said to myself, "I didn't think anybody was checking for me for an Emmy nomination this year." And, all of a sudden, I'm nominated this year. Is there a bigger reason why I was nominated? I started out my Emmy conversation or campaign or whatever it was with me still being the only openly trans person nominated for an acting Emmy. And I thought, "Wow, with all these great trans folks acting on television now? With shows like Pose. Wow, am I still the only one?" So I wanted people to know that. And then as I kept thinking about what the bigger reason was, I've been thinking a lot about this Supreme Court case, the Title VII case going in the Supreme Court and how not enough people are talking about it.
I was listening to a podcast with my friend Chase Strangio was doing with Chris Hayes, W.I.T.H. Pod, and Chase said, in 2017, when I said Gavin Grimm's name at the Grammy's and you Google Gavin Grimm, it made a huge difference in the case that Gavin Graham was fighting around. And so I thought, that's probably it.
There was a lot of people watching. A lot more people watch the Emmys than follow me on Instagram. So I used this Emmy platform to talk about this case. I ideally wanted Amy Stevens to be on the red carpet with me. She's a trans woman who is one of the plaintiffs in this Title VII case. She wasn't able to be with me because of health issues so I thought the next best thing would be one of her attorneys, my friend Chase Strangio. So the fashion piece came along when Christina Peceli, my stylist, got the idea to do a clutch. And that had the messaging on it. So one side was the rainbow flag that had October 8, Title VII, Supreme Court and the other side was the transgender flag that had "#TransIsBeautiful."
BET: Explain the Title VII case to those who may not know what that’s about.
LC: This administration is telling the Supreme Court to make it legal to fire LGBTQ people from their jobs simply for being who they are. It's crazy, but that is what's going on. And it ended effects the LGBTQ+ community, but it also affects folks beyond that. There was a case Pricewater House vs. Hopkins. A woman was denied a promotion because her employers thought she was too masculine and wasn't woman enough at Pricewater House. She sued, the case went to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court said that enforcing sex stereotypes is de facto discrimination on the basis of sex, which is a violation of Title VII.
That case has been pivotal in LGBTQ people winning discrimination cases in lower courts and in the appellate court. Amy Stevens won her case on appeal, one of the gay men won his case on appeal and the other gay man lost. So when there's a dispute that Supreme Court will get involved. So the Supreme court, will be weighing in on that and, with this conservative majority, we don't know how it's going to go. But we do need the public to be aware that this is happening. If they roll back these protections, then somebody can tell you that you're not woman enough to work at your job and fire you. And the administration seems to be fine with this. Actually, they don't seem to be, they've said in their legal briefs that they're fine with it.
It's really deep and we know that there's a lot of stuff going on. This is beyond employment. If it becomes legal to fire someone for being LGBTQ, then we can deny them healthcare, too. A year ago, there was a leaked memo that the New York Times wrote about that basically said that the Department of Health and Human Services wants to change the definition of sex to be immutable qualities that existed from birth, based in genitalia and DNA, not your sex, is what you were assigned at birth and they wanted to change their definition.
That is what this administration is trying to do. They're going for it. They’re not talking about talking about it. We have to rise up.
BET: We, like everyone else in the world, watched the Savage X Fenty New York Fashion Week show. Tell us a little bit about that experience.
LC: The tricky thing about the Savage X Fenty show was the timing was everything. The choreography and the camera work had to match up perfectly. So they wanted to have a model's walk to reveal the musical artists. So the Migos were following me. So the timing had to be perfect. And in the dress rehearsal, I was doing too much, which I have been known to do, and the timing was off.
It was a freestyle, so they gave me permission to freestyle at the rehearsal. They were like, that was lovely; Let’s extend your music. So the producer and director extended my music, which was amazing! Thank you. Um, further to the producer, director who extended my music.
I was kind of stressed about it to be honest because there was so many moving pieces and it was a huge production and I was just a small part of it. But it was such an honor to be at the show. To be backstage with these beautiful women and non-binary people. Do you know a group of folks who wasn't represented in the Savage X Fenty show? It was so beautiful. Everybody was gorgeous and just fierce and the choreography was brilliant. It was just a revolution. It's Rihanna who started a revolution.
BET: How do you think other people should use their platforms to promote acceptance and equality because you do it so eloquently and gracefully.
LC: I think it's about what you're passionate about. My personal philosophy is that I am lovingly critical of policies and points of view. And I love individuals so that I am not interested ever in feuding with anyone publicly. I don't want to speak badly about anyone even if I disagree with them. I am all about love. And even if someone whose policies I completely disagree with and even if they want me not to exist and to go away, I can't have hate in my heart for that person. I have to have love in my heart for them. And I have to be in a forgiving place with them. And that's how I try to approach the ways in which I advocate because it's about policy and I think it's about love.
I think there's too much vitriol in the world and there's too much attacking people you don't agree with or who don't agree with you. I don't want to contribute to that noise and it is disturbing. I'm not saying everyone should do it the way Laverne does it, but that is the way I do it. So I think if there is an issue that gnawing at you that you're really passionate about, that's where you should go. There's a lot of things that we need to be mobilized around, right? And how we vote I think is really crucial and who we vote for. There’s probably going to be an issue that gets you in your core. If that's the case, you have to find out more about it and do advocacy around that.
BET: What are you hoping your legacy will be?
LC: I've got been asked that question before. I always love alluding to my favorite story about this with Oprah and Maya Angelou. Before Maya Angelou passed away, Oprah was sitting with Maya Angelou and Oprah had just opened her first school in Africa. She said, "I'm so excited about the school. The school is going to be my legacy." And Maya Angelou says, "My darling, you have no idea what your legacy will be. The legacy is every life you've touched." So I think legacy questions are really for other people. I think my job is to do the work. When I meet someone whose life has been affected by something I've done, that is really beautiful and I think about other people who've inspired me.
I met Iman last night, and I wasn't even prepared for how overwhelmed I would be from just that. She existed at a time that she opened so many doors for Black women in beauty. I was overwhelmed and started crying. When I met Tyra for the first time too, I didn't cry, but I got emotional because I watched every season of America's Next Top Model. I learned to model watching her show. I watched her talk show every day. The way I thought about branding, the way I thought about myself as a Black woman in this particular culture and creating a space for myself. And I didn't even think about it until I met her. And I was just like, you have like changed my life in so many ways.
There’s so many people who I wouldn't be here if they hadn’t just done their thing. I really think it's a continuum of like doing the work. If someone's life is affected in a positive way, I think that's the legacy because people carry you in their hearts; carry us with a song that means something to you or a TV show is through time in your life. These are the things that we take with this as we get older.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
(Photo: Michael Simon for (BAND-AID®)RED )