For leading voices in the black LGBTQ community, the case of Jussie Smollett was never about the actor himself.
Rather, the case was about the thousands of victims who have been the victims of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes — ones who often suffer in silence.
“This is one man who said he was a victim of hate. As it turns out, it may not be true but it doesn’t undo the other victims of hate and the justice they seek and should have,” Earl Fowlkes, President and CEO of the Center for Black Equity, told the Daily News Thursday.
“He’s just one person of many thousands,” Fowlkes added.
The “Empire” star alleged that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack back in January. He told police two people shouted slurs and assaulted him before pouring a chemical substance on him and wrapping a rope around his neck on Jan. 29.
The case was turned on its head this week when Smollett was charged with filing a false police report. He was arrested early Thursday.
Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson blasted the actor in a press conference, calling his actions “shameful” and the ordeal a “publicity stunt” meant to further Smollett’s career.
Activists have since spoken out about the case, urging the public not to forget the harsh reality many members of the black LGBTQ community do face.
Of all the anti-LGBTQ homicides in 2017, 56% of victims were black, while 71% were people of color, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were the most likely targets of hate crimes in America, according to a 2014 analysis of data from the FBI.
“I don’t see this as being indicative of other hate crimes that take place around the country,” Fowlkes told the News. “Each one has to be judged upon its own merit and no two are exactly alike.”
Fowlkes also noted that attacks at times go unreported for a multitude of reasons, including victims fearing they won’t be believed or their communities’ reactions.
Dana Vivian White, a speaker and contributor to Out Magazine, said the Smollett scandal shows them how far society still has to go when discussing attacks against black LGBTQ members.
“[Smollett] didn’t ruin Black History Month, set ‘us’ back, or make abuse cases unbelievable. He showed me who our allies are, who will publicly doubt and disparage survivors before having all the facts, who wants to prove a point more than care for others, who trusts police,” White wrote.
“[Smollett] showed us once again that as Black and LGBTQ people we’re guilty until proven innocent, in the court of public opinion and actual criminal justice system and in the media, regardless of the outcome in his case,” added White, who identifies using they/them/their pronouns.
And while Smollett awaits his fate in his acting career and legal proceedings, both Fowlkes and White expressed how important it remains to believe survivors.
White wrote that believing survivors “can never be wrong or regrettable,” while Fowlkes said Smollett’s case shouldn’t change how we view victims of a hate crime.
“The conditions that cause hate crimes, whether they’re racist or based on sexual orientation or the #MeToo movement, we have to air on the side of the victim until we find out otherwise,” Fowlkes said.