Laverne Cox was unable to hold back her tears as she met a transgender teenage girl during a recent appearance on Kelly Clarkson’s talk show.
Cox, who rose to fame playing trans inmate Sophia on Netflix’s prison drama Orange is the New Black, has long used her platform to advocate for transgender causes and inclusion.
On Wednesday (15 November), Cox – who was the first trans person to be nominated for an Emmy in an acting category and become a Barbie doll – appeared as a guest on The Kelly Clarkson Show. During one segment, singer and talk show host Clarkson interviewed Harleigh, a transgender teenage girl who cited Cox as one of her “role models”.
Like Cox, Harleigh is from Alabama, with Clarkson first introducing her “southern gentleman” father Jeff. “I know a lot of people feel strongly about this topic, I get it,” Clarkson told her viewers. “But for any parent watching, please take a moment to hear this father’s story with an open heart.”
Jeff was introduced to Cox, 51, and began to tell the story of his family. He explained that Harleigh had been “picked on” in school for showing more traditionally feminine interests, but that he’d always accepted her.
Harleigh, 16, then joined her father on stage. The teenager explained that it was “the biggest deal” to meet Cox, saying: “When I first came out and started looking up trans things, you’re one of the first trans figures in the media I [saw]. Meeting you, you’re one of my biggest role models in transitioning.” Cox, in response, looked visibly emotional, mouthing: “Thank you” at Harleigh.
Telling her story, Harleigh said that she was a big fan of Taylor Swift and was a member of her school’s debate team. “I’m your average teenage girl,” she said, with Clarkson asking if she felt that “gets lost on people”.
Agreeing, Harleigh explained that she came out as trans at the end of elementary school, making the already tricky experience of middle school particularly tough. Harleigh shared that she’d been pulled out of school by her parents after being “severely bullied”. According to a 2017 report from LGBT+ charity Stonewall, more than half of trans pupils in the UK have been bullied in school because of their gender identity.
However, Harleigh stressed that LGBT+ charities and initiatives gave her the confidence to return to school and become the “happy trans person I am today.” “I think that’s something that also gets lost,” she told Clarkson. “We’re trans, but we’re also happy, thriving individuals. We don’t just survive, we thrive.”
Father and daughter spoke about the importance of support for families with trans kids, with Cox dabbing at her eyes as Harleigh pointed out that Alabama had been one of the first US states to introduce anti-trans legislation.
When Harleigh explained that she’d been the youngest person ever to testify before the senate judiciary committee about her experiences, she added that she wanted to go into politics. “Being able to share my story has been so rewarding.”
With tears trickling down her face, Cox struggled to gather her words as she told Harleigh: “I’m over here crying, and they’re happy tears, they’re complicated tears.” She thanked both Harleigh and Jeff: the former for “telling your story” and the latter for “supporting your child”.
“Yes, I want to be an actor, but with the platform I have, this is what I dream of,” she said. “I dream of seeing young people getting to thrive and be themselves and have space, and that their parents will support them.
“When I think about you being bullied, this beautiful spirit; who would bully this girl?… But this light is so beautiful, and when there is love and support, we can do anything.”
Growing more emotional, Cox continued: “How can people look at this young person and deny your humanity? I just wish that everybody had this.”