Race & Identity
The One Forgotten Message Behind The Jussie Smollett Saga
Violence against Black LGBTQ people is real.
When allegations of Jussie Smollett’s staged assault first hit the news cycle, it seemed like a far-fetched scenario to many people. Supposedly while out in the middle of the night, Smollett was accosted by men, who targeted him for his race and sexuality. While we know his story has allegedly been fabricated, many members of the LGBTQ community know that being abused by random people isn’t a stretch.
I’m a queer, Black woman, and although I present femme, I’ve been called a "dyke" in public. I’ve experienced men approaching me and my partner for sex. I have several other stories, but I am thankful the harassment I’ve experienced because of my sexuality has been verbal. However, there are countless other LGBTQ people who are not as lucky.
LGBTQ people are a historically oppressed group and the hatred we experience isn’t going away despite several legal wins. In fact, it’s getting worse. A study performed by the The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) found hate-fueled homicides have risen by 86 percent since 2016. People of color made up 71 percent of these deaths. The majority of victims included in that figure were Black. Smollett is 36 years old, just a year older than the 18 to 35-year-old age group — the primary targets in these crimes. Although his story is suspected to be a hoax, there are scores of other men who have experienced unspeakable violence related to their sexuality.
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In 2016, Martin Blackwell reportedly doused his girlfriend’s son, Anthony Gooden, and his boyfriend, Marquez Tolbert, with boiling water as they slept, according to WSB-TV, am Atlanta-based news outlet. During the incident, Blackwell allegedly made anti-gay comments.
"Martin pulled me up and said, 'Get out of my house with all that gay,'" Tolbert told reporters. "I couldn't stop screaming.”
Gooden spent two weeks in a coma, and both men had to receive skin grafts for their injuries.
Blackwell wasn’t remorseful when he spoke to investigators, according to Project Q. "They was stuck together like two hot dogs, so I poured a little hot water on them and helped them out," Blackwell told them. "They was stuck like two hot dogs. They'll be alright, it was just a little hot water."
He was later sentenced to 40 years in prison for the crime.
Although this is just one of many examples of gay Black men being subjected to inhumane adversity, they're not the only ones who've suffered the consequence of human ignorance in the form of homophobia. According to a 2018 report from The Human Rights Campaign, 95 of 110 transgender people who have been murdered in the past six years are Black. Black transgender women are also the most vulnerable, representing 69 percent of these victims.
Even though cisgender, queer women have lower assault and murder rates compared to other people in the community, we are still in danger. As HuffPost pointed out, four queer women were murdered in one week in December 2017. Violence against queer women is also often underreported, because their statistics tend to get lumped with other members of the community.
“It’s challenging,” said GLAAD Communications Director Sue Yacka-Bible. “Police often mischaracterize lesbians as friends or roommates, and in those incidences, their identities are obscured. LGBTQ communities are therefore not getting the whole picture of violence against our communities.”
While everyone is following the salacious details of Smollett’s drama, LGBTQ people are being abused and dying at alarming rates. Most of us don’t have money or name-recognition, nor do we receive an outpouring of support when we’re harmed.
Instead of directing energy at Smollett’s situation, check on the LGBTQ folks in your community.
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