Sometimes, even as a journalist, turning on the news can be a hard feat.
There’s a lot of good in the world, and I count my lucky stars that those are the types of things I largely have the privilege of reporting on, but there’s also a lot of things in the world that make my stomach churn.
As someone who considers themselves an intersectional feminist, a proud LGBT community member and an agent for social change, the Jussie Smollett story broke my heart. Hearing that there was a practical attempted lynching of an esteemed gay, black actor honestly made me sick to my stomach. It took a few days to process, and even longer before I was able to read more than just a headline about the situation.
But eventually, I swallowed my bad feelings and read about the situation.
Allegedly, two men had poured an undetermined chemical on Smollett, and finished him off with a rope around his neck, according to the Associated Press. My mind flashed to the first time I watched the film “The Laramie Project” that told the story of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was tortured to death and left to die while tied to a fence.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel safe.
I’ve tried to remain cautiously optimistic about gay rights in the United States. While things are moving in the right direction as far as statewide anti-discrimination laws, physical and mental acts of violence – especially against transgender women of color – remain ever-prevalent. I know that forward momentum cannot take place until we acknowledge and protect all members of the LGBT community from violence.
At first, I commended Smollett for being so brave, going forward and telling his tale. Had he been telling the truth, the amount of guts that would have taken would have surely propelled acts of violence against LGBT members into the spotlight of mainstream media. That upward momentum would have shined a light on the situation, possibly enacting real social change.
But then, it didn’t. Smollett lied. And, by doing so, he royally messed up his chance to make a positive change in the United States.
It was recently reported that Smollett paid two men $3,500 to attack him, in efforts of promoting his career and putting his name more into the spotlight, said the Associated Press. The two men were aspiring actors, and they agreed to make it happen.
What a big mistake.
Smollett blew his chance to be a pioneer for LGBT rights; with that, he blew his chance of ever being a successful, non-controversial actor. He made a mockery out of real, unstaged violence against members of the LGBT community. Now that his lies have been untangled, future victims of abuse who come forward will be subject to the same amount of skepticism Smollett faces now.
The LGBT community will need to find a way to get through this. This is not the time to disregard survivors of abuse. If your friend or family member confides in you about acts of violence, believe them. Contrary to what we see with Smollett, reporting hate crimes – fake, or not – is not a means of propelling your social status forward.
Whether Smollett realizes it or not, he is on the side of the oppressors, not the oppressed.