This week, an estimated 4,000 LGBT advocates, allies, and activists are converging in Houston, Texas for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's 26th annual National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. The action kicked off in earnest last night with the opening plenary session, where Laverne Cox, star of the Netflix hit series Orange Is the New Black, delivered an electrifying keynote address that set the room on fire.
When Cox, a transgender woman of color, emerged from backstage, she was so touched by the crowd's warm welcome that she was moved to tears. "You're going to make me cry," she told the room. "This feels so amazing, all this love that you're giving me tonight. I have to say that a black, transgender woman from a working-class background raised by a single mother... getting all this love tonight -- this feels like the change I need to see more of in this country."
Cox said that the simple act of receiving love can be a new experience for many trans people, including herself.
"Some days I wake up and I'm that... kid in Mobile, Alabama who's being bullied... Some days I wake up and I'm that sixth-grader who swallowed a bottle of pills because I did not want to be myself anymore, because I did not know how to be anybody else, and who I was I was told was a sin, was a problem... Some days I wake up and I am that black trans woman walking the streets of New York City, hearing people yell 'that's a man!' to me. And I understand... that when a trans woman is called a man, that is an act of violence."
She talked about the challenges and injustices trans people face in everyday society, the media, and in the prison system; honored trans pioneers and unsung heroes working for trans equality across the country; and expressed hope for the future, declaring, "There will be justice." And she called on the LGBT community to lead the way by more fully embracing and loving each other, and reaching out across our differences.
"Loving a trans person, I believe, is a revolutionary act," Cox said. She added later that while we may not always know "the right thing to say" to others of varying orientations, identities, health statuses, and experiences, we still need to have those conversations -- across our differences -- "with love, and with empathy, and with a desire to get to a level of understanding that we didn't have before" so we can truly be there for one another.
And the crowd went wild.
Watch Cox's Creating Change 2014 keynote address, after the jump.