Black History Month is observed every February to commemorate the important people and momentous events in African-American history.
About Black History Month
The idea of what we know today as “Black History Month” was first conceptualized by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History as “Negro History Week” nearly 90 years ago. Observed on the second week in February, it was supported by the departments of education of three states and city school boards in two major American cities in its first year back in 1926. Public support for “Negro History Week” was minimal at the time, but the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History never abandoned the idea, believing that observance of the week would catch on and help educate others about black history. By 1930, nearly every state that had a significant black population celebrated Negro History Week. It continued to be celebrated every year thereafter through the 1970s.
The Black Student Union at Kent State University in Ohio was responsible for turning Negro History Week into what we now know as Black History Month. The Union first proposed the entire month of February as Black History Month in 1969, and it was first celebrated by them the next year. Support for the idea grew nationwide, and the U.S. government, at the urging of then-president Gerald Ford, designated February as Black History Month for the first time in 1976.
African-Americans made up 14.1 percent of the U.S. population in 2013, the latest year the census figures have been adjusted. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 4.6 percent of African-Americans identify as either lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, meaning African-Americans who self-identified as LGBT numbered approximately 2.07 million.
Hotspots honors Black History Month by profiling black LGBT people who have made noteworthy achievements in their personal or professional lives. One person will be profiled each week.
Laverne Cox was born on May 29, 1984 in Mobile, Alabama. She has a twin brother, M Lamar, who is also an actor and plays the pre-transition version of her character in Orange is the New Black. Laverne noticed at a very early age that she
was different from her peers, and for many years she was bullied for “not acting the way someone assigned male at birth was supposed to act.” As a result, she attempted to take her own life at the age of 11. Later on, Laverne excelled in dance at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham, and attended college at Marymount Manhattan in New York City, where she originally majored in dance but developed an interest in acting, and subsequently changed majors to reflect that interest.
Laverne started acting in 2008 with an appearance on the drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and appeared in a number of TV series and independent films in the next two years. In 2009, she appeared on the reality show I Want to Work for Diddy, and accepted a GLAAD Media Award in the show’s honor. In 2010, she produced and starred in her own VH1 reality show, called TRANSform Me. In the show, female contestants would receive makeovers and self-esteem advice from three transgender women, which included Laverne herself. The show lasted for eight episodes, and Laverne earned the honor of being the first African-American transgender woman to produce and star in her own television series.
Laverne Cox broke into the mainstream in 2013 when she was cast in the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black. She plays the role of Sophia Burset, a former firefighter who was arrested and sent to prison for credit card fraud. She earned an Emmy nomination for her work on the series. She became wildly popular as a result of her role on the show, and gained a platform in mass media to speak out regarding the state of transgender rights and other human rights issues.
She writes semi-regularly for The Huffington Post and was complimented for her poise during a January 2014 interview with journalist Katie Couric, in which the public perceived a disconcerting focus on Couric’s part to ask questions related to transitioning and sex reassignment surgery. Laverne said, “Our unemployment rate is twice the national average; if you are a trans person of color, that rate is four times the national average. The homicide rate is highest among trans women. If we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.”
As a leading spokeswoman for transgender issues, Laverne became the first transgender person to be featured on the cover of Time. She has also been named to Out Magazine‘s Out 100 list, The Guardian‘s World Pride Power List, and Ebony‘s Power 100 list. In 2014, she received the Stephen F. Kolzak Award from GLAAD as a token of gratitude for her work fighting homophobia and transphobia.
For more information on Laverne Cox, visit lavernecox.com. For more information on Black History Month from an LGBT perspective, visit glaad.org.