Transgender activist, actress, producer and writer Laverne Cox will be the keynote speaker at Portland State’s annual Queer Students of Color Conference on May 9.
The conference is a three-day event sponsored by the Queer Resource Center. The theme this year is “Regenerating Community: Radical Coalitions at the Intersection.” Participants will engage in workshops, exercises, lunches and activities geared toward providing a safe space for queer students of color.
“The goal is to have a space where queer and trans folks of color can come and develop community and networks and work on these issues, particularly because there’s a lot of spaces for queer folks in general, but this is only the second conference that is specific for queer people of color,” said Paola Saldaña, resources coordinator for Queer Students of Color.
The QRC is particularly pleased to have the Orange is the New Black star as a guest. Cox has been a very vocal proponent of transgender rights, and her rising celebrity status lends a new level of visibility to a community that has, in the past, faced a multitude of struggles when working toward agency and social equity.
Cox, who is currently working on a documentary about transgender activist CeCe McDonald, as well as filming the second season of Orange is the New Black, is the only transgender woman of color to have a starring role in a major series.
On the show, Cox plays Sophia Burset, a transgender woman serving time for credit card fraud. Saldaña suggested that the overwhelming popularity of Cox’s character—as well as her public persona—have helped bring some aspects of the trans experience to mainstream audiences.
“I think that her visibility is very telling of issues in the community, and I think where we need to start moving toward,” Saldaña said.
While Cox is certainly one of the most recognizable guests at the conference, she is one among several artists and activists expected to contribute. Other attendees include writer Fabian Romero, spoken word performers Climbing Poetree and activist Emi Koyama.
The event will be held in the Smith Memorial Student Union ballroom, which accommodates 700 people. The price of attending the entire three-day conference is $30 for students and $60 for community members, but those prices are flexible depending on financial need. The price for seeing Laverne Cox speak is free to students and $7 for community members.