Opinion: If a Hate Crime Could Happen to Jussie Smollett, It Could Happen to Me

Opinion: If a Hate Crime Could Happen to Jussie Smollett, It Could Happen to Me

01.30.19
"Empire" actor Jussie Smolletts in 2016. (Photo: Dominick D/Flickr)
01.30.19

In the early hours of Jan. 29, openly gay “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett became the victim of an apparent hate crime. Moments after leaving a restaurant, he was attacked by two white men donning ski masks, according to news reports which cite what Smollett told the Chicago Police Department.

Smollett’s attackers yelled out homophobic and racist slurs and said, “This is MAGA country,” according to the reports. They drenched him in bleach and wrapped a noose around his neck. After his assailants fled the scene, Smollett was forced to take himself to the hospital.  

If someone as high profile as Jussie Smollett is at risk for attacks like this, what does that say for other people?

The truth is any queer person — and especially a queer person of color — can be the victim of this type of violence, and I know this firsthand. I’ve lived in the Bay Area my entire life and I’ve experienced flagrant homophobia, even just for wearing makeup. While riding BART to a concert, I was called the f-slur by a man, who proceeded to threaten to smash my phone. I was accused of making fun and taking pictures of him. While this happened, I froze, shocked and scared.

Luckily for me, he walked off angrily to another train car and I wasn’t hurt, just shaken.

The Bay Area has built itself a reputation of liberalism, stemming from San Francisco’s history of free love and LGBTQ activism. That could lead you to believe that it’s a paradise for queer people — but it’s not.

The image of the Bay Area as a gay mecca has been marred by a national spotlight on the racism that is alive and well here. This is the home of BBQ Becky and the place where Oscar Grant was killed.

As a drag queen I go out to do what I love, but I feel like I’m at even more risk. A night of fun means ignoring cat calls and smacking away hands that try to touch me. Many people don’t see performers as human beings, so they think it’s OK to cross boundaries. I’m there to perform because it’s what I love, not to be harassed. It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing, or how flirty they thought my performance was.

If wearing makeup as a boy led to me being threatened, then public transport in drag is out of the question. I’m forced to take Ubers to my performances. But I don’t take Pool rides, for fear of another rider taking offense to me.

I go out every day knowing someone could single me out as queer and put me at risk. When I present myself in ways that endanger me even more, it’s even scarier.

In the years since Trump’s rise to power, racists have been emboldened by the hate that has flooded the news, co-signed by their president. Whether it’s the alt right in Charlottesville or the two men who just attacked Jussie Smollett, they are the faces of the racism that permeates this country.

Support young journalists and artists