"It is so important for us to remember that when the Stonewall riot happened, the patrons of Stonewall were lined up, and if you were not wearing at least three items of clothing associated with the gender that you were assigned at birth, you were arrested," the Orange Is the New Black actress, joined by her costars, told the crowd at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan.
"Sylvia Rivera, a true trailblazer, was present at the Stonewall rebellion," Cox said. "She, as a trans person, a street queen, a hustler, warned us about becoming a movement that was only for white, middle-class people. And 45 years later, the most marginalized of our communities are still struggling."
As a trans actress on a hit show, Cox is certainly raising the profile of transgender activism. And she couldn't feel more lucky to be involved with the Netflix program.
"The show has changed my life," she told PEOPLE at the event. "I did imagine that my life would be sort of like this, but this would've exceeded expectations, I have to say. So, I'm just really happy to represent the show that's changed my life for the better. And I love it and it's so good and it's touched people and made people laugh, and I love it."
A TV special, Trailblazers, premieres Thursday (9 p.m. ET) on Logo TV. The awards show honors pioneers who have broken new ground in the quest for LGBT civil rights and who are leading the way toward equality.
The special will salute Edie Windsor and Roberta Kaplan, two of the catalysts behind overturning DOMA; Jason Collins for becoming the first male publicly gay athlete in a major American sport; and OITNB for bringing the lives of characters rarely seen on TV into millions of American homes.
Reporting by JESSICA FECTEAU