This year’s New York Pride Parade was a typically jovial occasion. Thousands of LGBT New Yorkers and allies hit the streets of Manhattan to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots.

And while the celebratory fervor of Pride could be felt throughout a two-mile stretch from Midtown to Greenwich Village, grand marshal and transgender actress Laverne Cox brought attention to a plight facing the most vulnerable of the LGBT community – violence against transgender women.

Violence against transgender women, particularly those of color, has been an ongoing epidemic – one that has been oft-overlooked by mainstream media in favor of stories on same-sex marriage and teen bullying.

According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, half of fatal LGBT hate crimes committed in the United States were against transgender women – 73% of whom were of color. The group Transgender Day of Remembrance reports that there have been 85 murders of transgender people between 2008 and 2013.

In one instance, a 21-year-old black transgender fashion student Islan Nettles was brutally murdered in 2013 in Harlem when a man turned violent after learning that she was transgender. The story, while heartbreaking, failed to galvanize mainstream debate.

However, the rising popularity of Laverne Cox has been hailed as a turning point for the LGBT community – which has long lacked prominent transgender role models to bring attention to such deadly realities.

The star of the hugely-popular Orange is the New Black Netflix series, who fiercely advocates for protections of trans women from violence, was, this year, featured on the cover of TIME Magazine and recently topped the LGBTI awards’ World Pride Power list.

Cox, who looked the belle of the ball as the grand marshall of this year’s Pride parade, shared her float with Dolores Nettles, the mother of victim Islan Nettles. A somber-looking Nettles displayed a portrait of her slain daughter while riding aside Cox.

In a notable interview with Katie Couric, Cox spoke about the 2013 murder of Islan Nettles: “This is the reality of so many trans peoples’ lives in this country – trans women of color – whose lives are in danger simply for being who they are.”

Thomas Freeman is Texas-transplant and aspiring journalist trying (but often failing) to navigate New York City. A current NYU student, Thomas also writes articles and manages media content for 20to30.

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