The LGBTQ Community & Laverne Cox

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Members of the LGBTQ community campaigning for equality. Original photo from democrats.org

Without a doubt, society has become accepting of the LGBTQ community in the past fifty years. 92% of the LGBTQ community say that society is more accepting than a decade ago, and the same number are optimistic that the acceptance will continue to grow over the next decade.

This new level of acceptance has been reciprocated in the diversity of television characters. In the 2014 fall television season, LGBTQ characters make up “3.9% of the total number of series regulars on prime-time shows on the five broadcast networks, or 32 out of 813.” This looks fairly representative of the LGBTQ population at first glance because 3.4% of American adults identify as a member of the LGBTQ community, except “no regular characters on broadcast prime-time shows are transgender.” The transgender community has been historically overlooked or forgotten even in the LGBTQ community.

Two of the only shows that have included a transgender regular character are not made by broadcast television, but by their online, streaming television equivalents. Those shows include Amazon‘s Transparent and Netflix‘s Orange is the New BlackOrange Is the New Black even “has more LGBT characters than any other show on broadcast and cable TV.”

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Laverne Cox: actress, activist, advocate. Orignial photo from Hollywood Reporter

Laverne Cox plays Sophia Burset, on Orange is the New Black, who is a transgender inmate in Litchfield. This character emphasizes the treatment of the transgender community in prison when Sophia’s estrogen pills are changed to generic and she’s given a below recommended dose just so the Department of Corrections can save some money. Laverne Cox said at the 2014 Creating Change Conference that “healthcare for trans people is a necessity. It is not elective, it is not cosmetic, it is life-saving… But we are more than our bodies.” Since it is not elective, the prison should honor the lives of these people and give them the proper medical care.

Besides being an advocate for the transgender community on television, Laverne Cox is an advocate in her personal time, including the support of CeCe McDonald, her release from prison, and the documentary made about her. Cox was also the first openly transgender person to have their own Time magazine cover. She also produced a recent documentary on trans youth, The T Word.


And just remember that just because they are being represented, it doesn’t mean that they are being represented accurately or not based on stereotypes. When the transgender community is represented on television, which is not often, it is as some sort of sex worker. Laverne Cox has this to say on this stereotype:

“When folks want to write a trans character, the first thing that they think of is sex work. And part of the reason is that the most visibility, really, that trans folk get is through sex work. And then there is also crazy unemployment rates among transgender people; it’s like twice the national average. If you’re a trans person of color, it’s four times the national average. So, so often the only job opportunities presented for trans folks are in street economies, including sex work. Obviously there are lots of trans women who don’t do sex work, who have all kinds of professions.”



While Orange is the New Black and Laverne Cox are promoting tolerance and equality for all members of the LGBTQ community, it doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t. Just be tolerant of anyone who is different than you and respect their freedom of expression.

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Representation in Television

It is no surprise that representation of race on television is lacking. Up to and including 2010, there were nearly 1,000 actors and actresses nominated for Emmys in the categories of Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress in Comedy and Drama, respectively. Only 53 of those actors were non-white. That is essentially saying that 94.7% of America is white, which is false. The 2010 Census says that only 72% of America identifies as white. Assuming that the census is correct, 28% of the American population is severely underrepresented on television.

The video below by Glozell Green, a prominent Youtuber, shows the importance of representation specifically through The Princess and the Frog.

Studies have shown that the self-esteem of white male children is increased based on the amount of television he watches, but television has been shown to decrease the self-esteem of white female children and African American children.

The Latino population is 13% of the American population, but represents only 3% of the population on television.

Women are more likely to be portrayed as “thin” to “very thin” than men on television. Their appearance is also more likely to be commented on. In television and movies, women are more likely to be shown doing “appearance related activities” such as shopping and grooming than men.


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It is important for characters to represent real life people. Photo: Gar Tate

All of this considered, it is important that television shows make an effort to accurately portray minorities and women. All of the misrepresentation has been shown to cause low self-esteem and increased eating disorders in girls.

Orange is the New Black has been praised for it’s portrayal of “real women” since it has a cast of varying races and body types. While the main character is a white women from an upper class background, the focus is not entirely on her. Piper has even been criticized as being “boring” and “a Trojan horse” for creator Jenji Kohan.

The diverse cast of Orange is the New Black. Original photo: jezebel.com

The show also presents characters that defy stereotypes and some that are stereotypical. It is important to realize that characters of a certain race cannot all be the same, but not all of them can break stereotypes. Stereotypes can be shockingly accurate sometimes. Taystee and Poussey’s relationship break stereotypes and show strong, independent black women as friends. Black Cindy is more stereotypical as presented as a sassy, loud-mouth hooligan.

The show does bring up Piper’s white privilege both in and out of the show. Jenji Kohan identifies white privilege when she was pitching the show to networks:

“In a lot of ways Piper was my Trojan Horse. You’re not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories. But it’s a hard sell to just go in and try to sell those stories initially. The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and it’s relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. It’s useful.”


Representation matters. What you put out on television validates the viewers. People tend to associate the images on television with beauty and perfection. Therefore, it is important to represent everyone because everyone is beautiful and perfect.