Laverne Cox TIME 100 2015
Peter Hapak for TIME

Laverne Cox

Apr 15, 2015

As a transgender child, I was always looking around for someone like me, because I thought I was the only one. It’s hard to feel like that. But having support from my family changed everything. They helped me love myself and embrace who I am.

Not all trans kids are so lucky. And for them, having someone as visible and strong as Laverne Cox to look up to is inspiring. She’s done so many amazing things—not just acting on Orange Is the New Black but also loving herself enough to share her story with the world. She’s a pioneer for our community.

When Laverne and I met for the first time, it was honestly so exciting. She started screaming like a little girl, because she thought of me as a celebrity! She told me to keep up the good work, and how happy she was about my success. Now I want to do the same for her. Laverne, I love you and I’m so proud of you and you’re definitely making a difference. Keep it up!

Jennings, 14, is an author, advocate and star of a forthcoming TLC docuseries

Photos: Meet Transgender America

Laverne Cox Laverne Cox grew up in Mobile, Ala., a town where she recalls everybody being in everybody else’s business. In third grade, after a teacher saw Cox flitting a handheld fan like Scarlett O’Hara, she called Cox’s mother with a message: your son is going to end up in New Orleans wearing a dress. That moment, Cox says, was “profoundly shaming.” Cox later attempted suicide in sixth grade. Her lonely youth started to change when she went to an arts academy for high school and then on to New York City, where she became an actor, landing a featured role in Netflix’s hit Orange Is the New Black. “I absolutely have a lot of work that I still have to do around shame, lingering shame from childhood,” she says. “It’s a struggle every day, to stay present, not to become that, you know, eight-year-old who was bullied and chased home from school.”Gillian Laub for TIME
Laverne Cox Laverne Cox grew up in Mobile, Ala., a town where she recalls everybody being in everybody else’s business.
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Gillian Laub for TIME
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