Jussie Smollett and the attack on queer people of color

February 4, 2019

Jussie Smollett, internationally known Black television star and LGBTQ+ activist, was beaten in Chicago in a horrific racist and homophobic attack by two men early on the morning of Jan. 29. Smollett was there filming the award-winning series “Empire” in which he plays a gay singer.

A police statement said two “unknown people” attacked Smollett, hurling racist and homophobic slurs at him, and wrapped a noose around his neck. Smollett had previously received threats along these lines in an envelope with a MAGA (Make America Great Again) return “address.” (Ebony, Jan. 29)

It’s possible Smollett, as a well-known figure, was targeted specifically by racists. It’s also possible that this was a random attack. But the exact origin of the attack is the same: The attackers once again wore the face of white supremacy and class patriarchy.

In a Feb. 1 statement to Essence, Smollett emphasized that “these types of cowardly attacks are happening to my sisters, brothers and non-gender conforming siblings daily. I am not and should not be looked upon as an isolated incident.”

But social media responses to the attack on Smollett include disgusting accusations that Smollett was “making the attack up.”

Such a deeply racist and homophobic worldview shows its determination never to admit that devastating levels of violence are unleashed on queer people of color.

A 2016 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs documented that a staggering 87 percent of LGBTQ and HIV-affected people murdered in 2011 were people of color. The report also revealed that 61 percent of all survivors of hate violence identified as a person of color.

The year that report was released, a gunman attacked the Pulse, a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., killing 49 people and injuring 53 — the majority of them LGBTQ and Latinx. (tinyurl.com/ydbfvu8l)

In late 2018 the Human Rights Campaign described violence against transgender people in the U.S. as “epidemic,” with 128 transgender people killed the five previous years. The overwhelming majority were transgender women of color. (tinyurl.com/yabz3377) The first person killed in Montgomery, Ala., in 2019 was an African-American transwoman, Dana Martin, who was also the first trans person killed in the U.S. this year.

Like Jussie Smollett, queer, two-spirited, gender-nonconforming people of color have been targeted with violence for centuries.

And queer POC have always defended themselves by fighting back.

Gender-nonconforming people of color were the leaders in the historic rebellions at Compton’s Cafeteria in 1966 in San Francisco and at the Stonewall Bar in 1969 in New York City, igniting larger movements for justice and freedom for LGBTQ people. The Black Lives Matter freedom surge that began in 2014 was strategized and fueled by queer people of color.

Racists may be coming out of the woodwork like the vermin they are, encouraged by white supremacist Trump, his rhetoric and policies. Bigots may be masking themselves and attacking by night, like they targeted Jussie Smollett.

But queer people of color are defending themselves and are staying strong.

As Smollett affirmed in his Feb. 1 statement: “My body is strong but my soul is stronger.”