Like most people, I’ve been watching the Jussie Smollett story unfold with an increasing sense of dread. When the news of the attack first broke, it was terrifying. It felt like the mounting hostility toward the LGBTQ community (and the increase of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes) was being writ large for a widespread audience that can typically overlook it very easily.
Immediately, folks came out of the woodwork to question the story. Strangers, people I’ve long lost contact with, people I’ve purposefully distanced myself from because of their record of insensitive remarks were suddenly all up in my timeline eager to write the whole thing off as “fake news.” In hindsight, the skepticism feels justified, but considering the information available at the time, it was little more than a lucky guess.
After a lifetime of witnessing marginalized people be silenced, I bristled at the (often straight, often white) voices eagerly leaping to discredit his story. I’m using the word “discredit” very purposefully. They weren’t disproving, because they had no additional information than you or I or the Chicago Police Department. There was just something about this man — this black, gay man — they found inherently untrustworthy. It was a bad-faith argument I struggled to sit idly by and let stand.
All across social media, LGBTQ people, people of color and allies rushed to Jussie’s defense, myself included. In most cases, it more closely resembled “wait and see” rather than “BURN THE WITCH!” but even the suggestion that maybe we should wait until we have all the information before we label this potential victim of a hate crime a liar was enough to draw ire from the conservative keyboard warriors.
As the story continued to take twists and turns, things looked grim. In whispered conversations at bars, in DMs, in group texts, I privately fretted with my fellow queer community over the potential damage this could do if it turned out to be false. It’s beginning to look increasingly like this is the reality.
Now, queer people overall are feeling guilt, shame and humiliation for standing by him — especially in the face of the gleeful smugness of people so eager to throw an “I told you so” at them.
I do not purport to ever speak for anyone other than myself. For me, I have made a decision about my personal values that I will believe victims. Period. Full stop. I understand there is a risk in that, but I sleep much better at night with that risk than with the alternative.
Now, that does not mean rushing through logic or reason. That does not mean demanding consequences without evidence. It is not guilty until proven innocent. It is merely operating in good faith under the belief that a victim is telling the truth until proven otherwise to (hopefully) dismantle a system that puts a terrible burden on victims and discourages people to come forward, thus creating a significantly less just world.
I do not feel any regret for supporting Jussie until proven otherwise. You cannot make me feel shame for having compassion. You cannot fault me for following the lead of the Chicago PD while they also repeatedly refuted claims it was a hoax and treated Jussie as a victim. (Funny how everyone is so pro-law enforcement unless they are running counter to your preferred narrative/investigating your politicians.)
I am angry that someone who should’ve known better could do something so grotesque. We all are. If it turns out this was hoax, I believe what he did was indefensible, and he should have consequences for falsifying a police report and causing immeasurable harm to the LGBTQ community. However, there is such a rush to use this bizarre and terrible story to somehow discredit LGBTQ communities and allies or suggest widespread hypocrisy and conspiracy. The thing is, in light of the truth behind Jussie’s story being revealed, the condemnation will be swift, and I would go as far to call it universal.
Can the same be said for Alex Jones’ unfounded, disgusting crusade to discredit the victims of Sandy Hook? What about the conspiracy about how Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of a pizza shop basement that led to a man firing a rifle in the restaurant? Or how about the woman that accused an Obama supporter of carving a B on her face? Moreover, what about our current President’s obsession with the validity of Obama’s citizenship?
If folks are so concerned with the MAGA brand being unfairly associated with anti-LGBTQ sentiment, perhaps more energy should be directed at the official party platform which opposes marriage equality, affirms conversion therapy, supports adoption agencies rejecting same-sex parents, etc. That’s not rumor nor innuendo; that’s official party platform you can read on the official GOP website.
Even more explicitly, a West Virginia lawmaker — wearing a MAGA hat, no less — suggested he would drown his own children if they were gay. That was this month.
I am terrified about what this could mean for the many, many (many, many, many) actual LGBTQ victims of violence and how much harder this will be for them. Queer people were so deeply affected by this because it struck so close to home. I personally have been threatened with violence or death for being gay more times than I can count. And in so many ways, I am lucky.
There are so many LGBTQ people who aren’t so fortunate. Look no further than Matthew Shepard. Look no further than Brandon Teena. Look no further than Regina Denise Brown, Keanna Mattel, Tydi Dansbury, Ciara Minaj Carter, Nikki Janelle Enriquez, Londonn Moore, Shantee Tucker, Dejanay Stanton, Vontashia Bell, Sasha Garden, Keisha Wells, Cathalina Christina James, Diamond Stephens, Antash’a Devine Sherrington English, Gigi Pierce, Nino Fortson, Karla Patricia Flores-Pavón, Sasha Wall, Amia Tyrae, Phylicia Mitchell, Zakaria Fry, Celine Walker, Tonya Harvey, Crista Leigh Steele-Knudslien, Viccky Gutierrez and the countless other trans people (and especially trans people of color) whose lives have been taken over the years.
I sincerely hope all of you armchair investigators are just as passionate about finding justice for them as you’ve been to prove Jussie wrong.
Bobby Hankinson is a writer, performer and frequent internet comment debater. All opinions expressed are those of the author.