The Emmy winner, actress and LGBTQ rights activist Laverne Cox has become the first transgender person to have a Barbie doll designed after her, at a time when advocates warn that transgender rights are coming under legislative attack in the United States and abroad.
GOP lawmakers have filed nearly 200 state bills this year that seek to erode protections for transgender and gay youths or restrict discussion of LGBTQ topics in public schools, The Washington Post reported in March.
Cox, whose acting breakthrough came on “Orange Is the New Black,” is one of the Western world’s most prominent transgender activists, and her ability to move “beyond societal expectations to live more authentically” was praised by Barbie maker Mattel. Cox has spoken publicly about her struggles as a Black transgender woman and supported other trans people fighting against restrictive laws.
Tinu Naija, a New York-based Barbie enthusiast, said she ordered the Cox doll — which comes in a crimson corset worn over a gown and a silver jumpsuit — once it was announced. She did not find the doll to be an exact likeness of Cox but called the symbolism “monumental.”
“The inclusion of a transgender personality for kids and adult doll collectors alike is groundbreaking,” Naija said in an interview. “This is bigger than even Laverne Cox herself. This would ripple down many generations to come.”
The Cox Barbie is currently among the best-selling dolls on Amazon. (The Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.)
In recent years, states with Republican-majority legislatures and GOP governors have sought to restrict transgender rights. A record-breaking number of such bills were introduced in 2021, according to Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group.
States such as South Carolina, South Dakota and Arizona have laws that prohibit transgender girls and women from competing on many female sports teams. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) signed a bill this week that requires students in public school to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificates.
Alabama has tried to make gender-affirming care a felony, though a federal judge swiftly blocked that move this month. The Texas Supreme Court recently issued a nuanced ruling on Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive to child welfare workers to investigate gender-affirming care for minors as “child abuse.”
Advocates have criticized such laws for targeting an already marginalized group. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) vetoed a transgender athlete bill this year, citing the mental health impacts it could have on young people in the state.
More people in the United States are identifying as transgender and nonbinary, advocates say, but a Pew Research Center survey in 2021 indicated sharp partisan divides on whether greater societal acceptance of transgender people was a positive development.
The battle over transgender rights has also spread to Australia, where conservative parliamentary candidate Katherine Deves was defeated over the weekend. Her campaign was closely associated with anti-transgender remarks she had made, including comparing gender-reassignment procedure to mutilation. Her loss amounted to “a stunning rebuke of the politics of division” among the public, Equality Australia said.