Laverne Cox Says She Planned to Kill Herself 17 Years Ago: 'I'm So Grateful That I Survived'

The Orange Is the New Black star headed to Boston on Wednesday to campaign on behalf of the Yes on Question 3 campaign

Human Rights Campaign - Freedom for All Massachusetts Yes on 3, Boston, USA - 24 Oct 2018
Photo: Josh Reynolds/AP/REX/Shutterstock

When Laverne Cox heard that Massachusetts voters would soon choose whether to uphold the 2016 law that protects transgender people from discrimination in public places, the actress knew she needed to speak out.

“I’m pretty well informed, but I thought, ‘Oh my god we have to amplify this.’ If they can roll back civil rights protections in Massachusetts for transgender people, they can do it anywhere,” Cox, 46, told PEOPLE. “What can I do?”

The Orange Is the New Black star headed to Boston on Wednesday to campaign on behalf of the Yes on Question 3 campaign. The Massachusetts ballot question will determine whether the law passed in 2016 that protects transgender people from discrimination in public places like restaurants, shops, and movie theaters will be upheld. Along with several transgender children and activists, Cox passionately spoke to the crowd.

“I stand before you today a proud, black transgender woman, and I am reminded that trans is beautiful. Two years ago you added public accommodations to the civil rights protections for transgender citizens of your great state. That was an amazing thing. That was something to celebrate. And here we are two years later defending that,” she told the crowd. “It is a reminder to me that the fight is never done. That even when we think we have our rights, there are still people out there who want to take them away. I don’t know how someone can look at the humanity of these incredible people and say they don’t deserve the same rights as everybody else. It’s been stated today that Massachusetts has led the way time and time again, and you have the time to do that once more by voting yes on 3.”

Cox said voting yes on Question 3 is part of a bigger mission, particularly in light on Sunday’s New York Times article that reported on a leaked memo from the Trump administration, claiming they are considering narrowly defining gender as a biological condition determined by genitalia at birth.

“Massachusetts has an opportunity to send a message to this administration,” Cox said. “An opportunity to send a message to the rest of the country that this is not who we are as Americans, who we are as human beings.”

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Cox also talked of her own personal struggles, reflecting on the time 17 years ago when she nearly took her life, because “the world made me feel like I would never be accepted, never live without being harassed and less than human.”

“I was living in New York City, and every day that I left the house I had to arm myself. Not literally, but emotionally. Because I knew that when I left the house, I was probably going to be harassed. I knew the second I left that people would mis-gender me, call me a man, that the second I walked into the subway I wouldn’t feel safe, when I walked into the bodega I would be pointed at and laughed at, and treated as if I were not human.

“One day I sat down and I typed up notes, and the notes said, ‘My name is Laverne Cox and I should not be referred to by any other name. My preferred pronouns are ‘she’ and ‘her’, and I shouldn’t be referred to as any other pronouns.’ And I made about five copies and had a copy in each of my pockets and placed them around my apartment because I was planning to commit suicide,” she added. “I was planning to kill myself. I wanted to make sure that I would not be mis-gendered in my death. I wanted to be sure that I would not be dead-named in my death. That the disregard for my identity on a daily basis would not happen when I was dead. I am not entirely sure why I didn’t commit suicide when I was thinking about doing it 17 years ago … and I am so grateful that I decided not to try to take my life. I’m so grateful that I survived. I have come to understand that I am here for a divine purpose and I want every trans person to know that you are here for a divine purpose no matter what anyone says ago you.”

Even as recently as 2009, Cox says she was asked to leave a nightclub in Miami because she is trans.

“It was my first time (in Miami), and I was like ‘where should I go?’ I went to this place that was the hottest place, and they say, ‘Can we see you ID?’ And they say, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t let people of your gender in anymore. We’ve had some problems with people of your gender.’ I was like, ‘People of my gender?’ I remember being so devastated and humiliated and hurt. … Trans folks have been experiencing this for a very long time, and that’s not right.”

Despite her experiences in the past, Cox says in this day and age, she hopes people vote with compassion.

“In 2018, we’re basically just talking about civil rights protections for a marginalized group of people? There’s something basic about that,” Cox told PEOPLE. “But at the end of the day, Mass. has an opportunity to send a message to this administration and the rest of the country, and it is my hope and I believe that we can win on this. I believe people know that they will side with humanity, and with love. I really believe that in my heart.”

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