For almost 170 years, the Smithsonian Institution has symbolized all that is American knowledge. Established in August of 1864, founder James Smithson created the institution “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge’–and the company still uses that vision as their mission statement. Having grown to include 19 museums, 9 research centers, cultural centers, and even a zoo, it’s safe to say that the institution has definitely kept true to that mission. That being said, the Smithsonian is quite a big deal, and to be included in their exhibits would be no small matter.
One person who truly deserves a spot in the Smithsonian’s new exhibit on the best and brightest in mass media is actress, producer, and LGBTQ advocate Laverne Cox. Cox found her claim to fame with a role on the acclaimed Netflix television series Orange is the New Black, as a Trans woman named Sophia Burset. While definitely not the first transgender person to ever appear on a television screen, she made history this year when she became the first to be nominated for an Emmy in acting and the second Trans woman to be nominated for an Emmy since 1990. She also made history earlier in the year when she became the first openly transgender person to be featured on the cover of Time magazine.
Ever since the beginning of her rise to fame, Cox has used her status and her voice to advocate for the rights of Trans people. She recognized the importance of her role as Sophia Burset, and in an interview, stated that “Sophia is written as a multi-dimensional character who the audience can empathize with–all of a sudden, they’re empathizing with a real Trans person. And for Trans folks out there, who need to see representations of people who are like them and of their experiences, that’s when it becomes really important.’
Cox has been known to bring attention to the injustices, prejudices, and the struggles that Trans people undergo everyday due to ignorance and hatred, as well as highlight the important contributions of Trans people in the media; so considering the fact that this woman is now being listened to by the millions of people who see her on TV as well as all over social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, there is no denying that she has had and continues to have a lasting contribution to the media’s representation and portrayal of Trans people. This being said, I am confident that Laverne Cox more than deserves inclusion in the Smithsonian’s new exhibit, and that missing the opportunity to shine a light on this influential and inspiring person would be a huge misstep.