TIME Television

Laverne Cox Is the First Transgender Person Nominated for an Emmy — She Explains Why That Matters

The doctor takes Sophia off her hormones
Guest actress, comedy series - Laverne Cox, Orange Is the New Black
Netflix

For her role in Orange is the New Black

UPDATED: 4:00 p.m.

Laverne Cox has become the first transgender person nominated for an Emmy award.

Cox has been nominated in the “Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series” category for her role as Sophia Burset—an inmate who committed fraud in an attempt to pay for a sex change procedure—in the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. Cox tweeted her congratulations to fellow cast members on their nominations—OITNB raked up 12 Emmy nods this year, the most out of any comedy show.

GLAAD, an NGO that fights discrimination against the LGBTQ community in the media, noted that Cox repeatedly “breaks barriers” in her advancement of the LGBTQ cause. In addition to being the first openly transgender individual nominated for an Emmy in an acting category, last month she also became the first transgender person to appear on the cover of TIME.

“Today, countless transgender youth will hear the message that they can be who they are and still achieve their dreams – nothing is out of reach,” GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in the statement. “Laverne’s success on a hit series is a clear indication that audiences are ready for more trans characters on television.”

GLAAD also noted that this year’s list of nominations is among the most LGBT-inclusive in the history of the Emmys. Nominees include openly gay actors and actresses such as Jim Parsons, Kate McKinnon, Sarah Paulson and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. TV shows featuring LGBT characters and plotlines—such as Orange Is the New Black, Game of Thrones and Modern Family—also had a strong showing.

UPDATE: Cox caught up with TIME to discuss what it’s like to have achieved such a milestone. “I was told many times that I wouldn’t be able to have a mainstream career as an actor because I’m trans, because I’m black, and here I am,” she said. “And it feels really good.” (Nor was she the only one happy about it: “My phone is exploding with love!”)

Explaining why an Emmy nomination is a victory not only as an actress, but also as an activist, here’s what she had to say:

For me personally, I am an individual who consumes mainstream culture. I watch a lot of television. I go to mainstream films. And I want to see myself. I want to turn on the television and see people who look like me who have similar experiences that I have. And I think that trans people want and deserve that; everybody wants and deserves that. We should have representations that humanize our experiences and tell the diversity and the complexity of our experiences. I have mainstream sensibilities. Just because I’m black and trans does not mean I’m somehow not mainstream and not consuming the same culture everyone else is consuming. For so long we haven’t had that kind of validation of our experiences in mainstream culture, particularly as black trans women — but as trans people in general…

I am a patriot and I love this country. What I’ve always loved about this country, in theory, is that this is a place where anything is possible for anybody if you work hard enough, at least in theory. We know that there are systemic things in place that keep a lot of people from reaching their dreams and achieving their goals, but in theory it shouldn’t be about your race or your religion or your gender or your class that you were born into. You should be able to rise up and have your moments. It’s not possible for a lot of people but I just think that in terms of forming a more perfect union and having to live up to those ideals, representation and having everyone’s story told in our media is an important part of that.

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