STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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"Black trans lives matter:" a message for Michigan from actress Laverne Cox

Brittany Bartkowiak
Michigan Radio

Earlier this week – mid-polar vortex, of course – more than 2,200 people filled Saginaw Valley State University’s stadium to hear transgender activist and Orange is the New Black actress Laverne Cox talk about her life.

She came to Michigan with an important message for everyone: “Trans lives matter." Then she said, “black trans lives matter,” too. The entire arena exploded with cheers and applause.   

Cox described how her intersecting identities of being both black and trans made it even more difficult for her to feel safe on the street and at school. “I’m not just one thing and neither are you,” she said.

Like Cox, most kids who are at risk have more than one identity that makes them vulnerable. We’ve talked about the difficulties and discrimination poor and minority kids face before. When all of these factors are combined, it can make achieving lifelong success  and even safety  really tough.

Cox grew up with at least two identities that put her most at risk for harm. She shared her own long history of being bullied in school, which ultimately contributed to her suicide attempt in 6th grade.

Almost half of all transgender folks attempt suicide at some point. This rate is even higher for minority and low-income transgender people. Only 4.6% of people who aren’t both those things attempt suicide.

Cox's visit to Michigan comes in the midst of a local debate in Manchester schools where policies are in question after a parent reported their daughter was "traumatized" by a transgender student using the girl's bathroom. A disproportionate amount of trans kids face bullying and violence. Even switching schools multiple times sometimes doesn’t change things.  

While change might be happening on a case-by-case basis, Michigan’s transgender and gender non-conforming kids likely won’t see change on an institutional level before it’s too late for them to benefit from it. What they’re left with is stories like Laverne’s that show it takes an incredible amount of resilience to overcome barriers to success, but that it can be done.