Gay Iconography | Laverne Cox | Orange is the New Black | Transgender

Gay Iconography: Is Laverne Cox Becoming An Icon?


The phrase "gay icon" gets tossed around a lot, but what does that really mean? Welcome to Gay Iconography, a new feature where we present a proposed iconic figure or character and then ask you to weigh in with your thoughts. It's about reaffirming idols, discussing why these figures resonate (or not) and coming together as a community to define our cultural cornerstones. Despite Tom Daley's cheeky declaration of his gay icon status earlier this week, we're turning our attention to another break-out LGBT star of 2013 for this installment.

There's a lot to love about the Netflix original series Orange Is the New Black. For all the ink and pixels spilled over the incredible (and diverse) ensemble cast, the portrayal of the prison system and the exploration of race, the show also deserve some thanks for introducing a larger audience to Laverne Cox.

She is an actress, producer and activist. From her reality-TV beginnings to her recent critical acclaim as Sophia Burset on Orange Is the New Black, Cox has seized her opportunity in the spotlight as a transgender woman of color to speak out on transgender issues.

In addition to her advocacy, one could argue that Cox embodies many of the qualities we routinely attribute to gay icons. She's dealt with personal struggle, she's beautiful and she's not afraid to speak her mind.

Familiarize yourself with more of Cox's work and share your thoughts, AFTER THE JUMP

Cox's first prominent televison appearance was on the first season of VH1's I Want To Work For Diddy. The Apprentice-inspired reality show had folks competing for the chance to, well, work for Diddy. See Cox compete in a team challenge from episode five above. She was eliminated in episode six.


She became the first African-American transgender person to produce and star in her own TV show when she produced and starred in TRANSform Me. The series featured Cox and fellow transgender women Jamie Clayton and Nina Poon as they gave makeovers, in the style of Queer Eye For the Straight Guy.


You may recognize Cox from her small roles in various TV shows and films. The reel above shows her work in Law and Order, Law and Order: SVU, Bored To Death and more.


Of course, it's Orange Is the New Black that's launched Cox to stardom. Her character Sophia is notable not only for the depth and complexity of the writing, but for Cox's incredible performance.


Since making a splash on Orange Is the New Black, Cox has made appearances on talk shows and news networks to passionately advocate for transgender people. In the clip above from Joy Behar: Say Anything!, she talks about marriage equality and underscores the importance of remembering transgender people on the road to equality.

While it's still early in her career, do you think Laverne Cox has what it takes to become an icon? You can read more from our interview with Cox earlier this year, and tell us what you think in the comments!

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  1. Nope.

    Posted by: Jay | Dec 27, 2013 6:05:14 PM

  2. Wouldn't it help to know who somebody is before declaring them a "gay icon"? I've never heard of this person.

    Posted by: Joseph | Dec 27, 2013 6:05:57 PM

  3. I'm a fan of hers. Can't believe some are saying they've never heard of her, not that I believe what they're saying.

    Posted by: Marty | Dec 27, 2013 6:10:56 PM

  4. Yes Marty, because everyone on the face of the planet must have watched the handful of things she's been in. Either way, why is this site wasting so much space tossing around the "icon" label? What is it supposed to even mean? Have any of the people previously featured done anything that had one millionth the influence of someone like Alan Turing or Harvey Milk?

    Posted by: Joey Y | Dec 27, 2013 6:13:49 PM

  5. It would help her "iconic status" a lot if anyone had ever heard of her. Seriously, I'm pretty plugged into Teh Gay, and I have no idea who this unattractive alleged female is.

    On a side note, this is an idiotic thing to write about. I wouldn't mind if I never saw the topic raised again.

    Posted by: Derrick From Philly | Dec 27, 2013 6:41:51 PM

  6. This writer, whoever Bobby Hankinson is, seems a little too much like an amateur to be writing about iconography, gay or otherwise. Why has he/she not discussed Betty Davis, Madonna, Cher, Harvey Milk, Barney Frank, James Dean, Liza Minelli, etc. etc. (I could go on). Instead we hear about (who the hell is) Laverne Cox. Really?! What has she done to become a symbol for gay rights? Or gay hope? Or gay culture? What has she done to advance our status in mainstream culture? I hardly think co-starring on a Netflix original series qualifies her to be any of these things.

    Hell if all it takes to achieve "Icon" status, then I am an Icon. I am beautiful, distressed and speak my mind all the time.

    When can I be spotlighted for discussion??

    Posted by: Alex W | Dec 27, 2013 6:44:19 PM

  7. Beautiful, intelligent, and well-spoken. Definitely a trailblazer, but icon status happens over time. The fact that she's not an icon and a long way off from being able to have such a status doesn't diminish who she is or what she's doing, but this writer is throwing around terms like a college freshman in his first queer studies class. Calm down, sister. Read, absorb, talk your ideas out with people who understand the topic, write your ideas down, have those same people give you feedback, edit, and THEN publish.

    Posted by: Jay | Dec 27, 2013 6:50:22 PM

  8. Bobby Hankinson doesn't seem equipped to lead a discussion on gay iconography. He admits that we throw the term around too much, but then he introduces a new feature where he's going to do just that. And obviously apply it to people who are talented but nowhere near icon status.

    Bad idea for a series of posts.

    Posted by: Rene | Dec 27, 2013 6:56:13 PM

  9. Stop trying to make Gay Iconography Series Happen! It's not going to happen!

    Posted by: Regina | Dec 27, 2013 7:06:18 PM

  10. I've never heard of her. But I do wish her the best.

    Posted by: David From Canada | Dec 27, 2013 7:07:31 PM

  11. From what work of hers I have seen, I'm, to say the least, underwhelmed by her talent(s) or lack thereof. She will not become an Icon for me anytime in the near future, if ever.

    Posted by: JKM | Dec 27, 2013 7:08:30 PM

  12. This has to be one of the most pointless and vapid threads Towleroad has launched. Is this sort of Filler actually necessary? And evidently written by someone with virtually no context. Do we really have to explain that one season on a niche channel doesn't even come close to rendering one an "icon" - SOMETIMES, a character or a performance MIGHT be validly termed, "Iconic"…and neither applies to this wonderful actress nor her work, to date.

    Give her time…and give this "feature" a rest.

    Posted by: Kile Ozier | Dec 27, 2013 7:30:34 PM

  13. So, aren't 'transgender' and 'gay' entirely different realities? Is not 'Gay' essentially defined as an exclusive same-sex attraction, while 'transgender' is defined as one who's personal and/or inner identity is the opposite of their body's original gender? I've known transgender individual who find the 'gay' label insulting, and have certainly heard gay men dis transgenders. So, bequeathing a transgender person with 'gay icon' status may actually be neither welcomed nor accurate. Yes, woman can be 'gay icons' and of course, so can men - but transgender individuals may not fit the bill - and might take offense at the implications.

    Posted by: sandman | Dec 27, 2013 7:44:36 PM

  14. Good Lord, you lot of bitchy queens need a personality enema right quick.

    Posted by: Mikey | Dec 27, 2013 8:09:42 PM

  15. Rick, stop stealing Derrick's username to post transphobic hate speech. Use the dozens of fake names you already employ for that job and leave others alone!!!!

    Posted by: Tyler | Dec 27, 2013 8:11:28 PM

  16. Will someone please tell me who Laverne Cox is and why should I care and the true point of this 'article' is??

    Posted by: Troy | Dec 27, 2013 8:32:53 PM

  17. Will someone please tell me who Laverne Cox is and why should I care and the true point of this 'article' is??

    Posted by: Troy | Dec 27, 2013 8:33:15 PM

  18. Will someone please tell me who Laverne Cox is and why should I care and the true point of this 'article' is??

    Posted by: Troy | Dec 27, 2013 8:33:15 PM

  19. I think the point that no one knows who she is says a lot about the LGBT community. Unless you're White, buff, good looking or a drag queen you do not matter in the LGBT community. Sad.

    Posted by: Rion | Dec 27, 2013 9:04:15 PM

  20. Towleroad no longer has any sense.

    Posted by: sam | Dec 27, 2013 10:56:12 PM

  21. No, but I have to confess that I don't know who this person is. I would imagine that wide recognition is one of the basic requirements of icon status.

    Posted by: D.B. | Dec 27, 2013 11:11:38 PM

  22. Is she even a lesbian?

    Posted by: Knock | Dec 27, 2013 11:23:12 PM

  23. I have some notion of who she is, and I have nothing against her; but I'm not interested enough by the show she's on to watch it.

    The writer of this series is actually devaluing the term "gay icon" with the extremely random selection of individuals to whom he has decided to apply the term.

    Posted by: Liberal Martin | Dec 28, 2013 2:07:18 AM

  24. Honestly I had never heard of Laverne Cox, probably because I haven't seen that show. I'm not sure anyone with such a short span of a career (relative to people I consider gay icons) could possibly qualify, but then, if you have to ask if someone is "becoming" a gay icon, the most hopeful answer would be "maybe in another twenty years if he or she is still working."

    That's really the crux of this, in my opinion. Of entertainers and activists who I'd consider true gay icons, all of them are at least recognizable names to the average person, gay and straight. So yeah, this 'icon' column could disappear from Towleroad forever and I wouldn't miss it.

    Posted by: sparks | Dec 28, 2013 4:10:39 AM

  25. Laverne is indeed wonderful in Orange is the New Black, as is the entire ensemble cast. I'm not sure though at this stage of her career that "icon" is a label I'd give her. But do I want to see more of her? Absolutely! And I wish her many more successes. I agree with "Sparks" though icon status comes with career longevity and a body of work.

    Posted by: bluedogjim | Dec 28, 2013 10:21:00 AM

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