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Perspective: Jussie Smollett and the dangers of being black and queer

By Thomas Hudson, Policy Associate for LGBTQ Equality

Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty

Note: Since this commentary was posted, Jussie Smollett has been charged with one count of felony disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. We shouldn’t let this distract from our resolve to believe victims and survivors. And we must not let this one experience diminish our commitment to working together to change the culture so that racism, homophobia, transphobia, and all other forms of hate violence have no place in our society.

Living at the intersection of black and queer identities means that you are more likely to be faced with life-altering violence and hate due to someone else’s “discomfort” with your identity.

What happened to Jussie Smollett was a premeditated hate crime, motivated by racism and homophobia. While this incident targeted Jussie, there are people who are victims of similar crimes whose names we will never hear. People whose cases are so brutal, yet news outlets often don’t report on them. This sort of violence is all too familiar for black LGBTQ+ communities — as a black queer man, I accept that there are things I have to do to ensure my safety. I wear glasses, smile at anyone I see, and always dress nicely so that I am not perceived as violent or threatening.

I shouldn’t have to be responsible for other people’s comfort, just like Jussie and other victims of racist, homophobic, or transphobic hate crimes are not to blame for the violence that lands on them. When we allow incidents of intolerance to slide, it enables them to potentially escalate to increasingly dangerous — and sometimes deadly — situations.

Take a moment to imagine what other victims of violent hate crimes may be going through or how they might be internalizing such a traumatic experience. How they may be replaying the situation trying to uncover or discover what they may have done wrong. For LGBTQ+ people of color, constantly reading about violence and crimes motivated by racism and homophobia can overwhelm our nervous system and create traumatic stress. Our sense of security shatters, leaving us feeling helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world. We as a community have to stop overlooking similar incidents, even when they occur as covert microaggressions such as telling racist jokes or saying “that’s so gay.” 

As someone who lives at the intersection of black and queer, knowing such a prominent figure can be attacked like this leaves me fearing that there isn’t much I can do to protect myself from becoming a victim. That my existence as a black and queer person is unwelcome.

Growing up in rural Oklahoma. I experienced racism and homophobia within multiple communities and people in positions of power did not adequately address the issue. At universities in our state, students have bluntly and proudly promoted the KKK and used racial slurs to remind people of color that we are not welcome in their space. In response, the university would release a statement that this behavior is unacceptable but did nothing to truly ensure the safety of those affected by such events. When we do not take deliberate steps to combat racism and homophobia, we are complicit in violence that targets LGBTQ+ communities of color. We are telling me and other black queer men that our safety is not important and that our lives are not valued.

Fortunately, following the attack on Jussie Smollett, we have seen a drastic increase in the support for black queer men and LGBTQ+ communities as a whole. Members of Congress and other elected officials, celebrities, potential presidential candidates, national organizations, and everyday Americans have all came together to say that racism and homophobia will not be tolerated within our communities. It is important that this support continues and does not fade away when the dust settles. We must mobilize the same outrage when any act of violence occurs, not just when the target of the violence is a celebrity. Doing this shows that every life is valued and allows us to progress towards a more equitable society.

Thomas Hudson is the policy associate for Ensuring LGBTQ Equality at the Biden Foundation.