Laverne Cox was the victim of a transphobic attack. Here’s why we in Britain shouldn’t turn a blind eye

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Aiden Wynn
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Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox has opened up on social media about her recent experience of transphobic harassment. Her story highlights a need for sustained support for trans people in the UK and across the world.

You may have heard the news or seen on social media that Orange is the New Black star and LGBTQ+ advocate Laverne Cox was recently the victim of transphobic harassment which, unsurprisingly, shook her deeply.

Taking to Instagram live on Sunday 29 November, she recounted the traumatic experience to her followers, telling them “I’m kind of in shock, and I am definitely super triggered.”

She explains that, as she was taking a walk with a friend in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, a man approached the two of them and demanded to know from her friend if Laverne was a “guy or girl.” When her friend refused to engage, the man attacked him, repeatedly hitting him as Laverne took out her phone to call for the police. 

Thankfully, Laverne was not physically harmed and assured viewers on Instagram that her friend was “fine”. Sadly, though, this just serves as yet another example of the fact that, as Laverne herself says, “it’s not safe in the world… if you are a trans person.”

But, while it is easy to look on in horror from afar at these incidents when they are recounted by celebrities everyone knows and loves, it’s important to recognise that this sort of thing happens a lot. Very often, it happens to vulnerable people with little or no platform to speak of.

In the UK, the situation is particularly pronounced, as over the past few years the transgender community has been brought into the media spotlight like never before. The conversation surrounding this minority group’s existing rights and future progress has, however, been notably hostile, with national newspapers and trans-exclusionary groups pushing back. We explored in more detail about exactly what caused this spike in hostility on Stylist last month. 

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It may not come as much of a surprise to learn that this debate about the lives and rights of transgender people has led to a sharp rise in transphobic hate crimes, which are described by Citizens Advice as incidents of harassment or violence that “the victim or anyone else thinks was carried out because of hostility or prejudice based on transgender identity.”

In fact, according to the BBC, crimes such as these have quadrupled in the UK in the past five years. And, as awful as this statistic is on its own, the picture is even bleaker when you look a little closer.

LGBT+ anti-violence charity galop’s 2020 report into the matter found that, in the last 12 months, a staggering four in five trans people “had experienced a form of transphobic hate crime.” For one in four trans people, that hate crime came in the form of a physical assault or threat of physical assault. For one in five, it was in the form of sexual assault or threat thereof.

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Trans rights: in the past five years, transphobic hate crimes have quadrupled in the UK.

The problem doesn’t stop there, and if you look outside of our borders, you can see the global scale of it. As a stark reminder of just how scary the world can be for trans people, on the recent Transgender Day of Remembrance which took place on 20 November, the community came together to remember and grieve for the 350 trans people across the world who were killed this year.

Clearly, transphobia is a problem that extends far beyond the infrequent stories you might see in the news or on social media. The voices of those most vulnerable, though, are all too often ignored, and to devastating effect.

This is an issue that is rightly brought to the fore by women like Laverne, who explains that she has been the victim of street harassment many times in her life. While this is important, the conversation shouldn’t end with stories like hers. It is everybody’s responsibility to sit up, pay attention and speak out about the problem, because without sustained support, the substantial progress that is needed is unlikely to come. 

Any trans people seeking support, help or advice can find resources on the Stonewall website and their local organisations on the Trans Unite website.

Images: Getty