To Be Black & Gay in America…
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
When I first learned of the recent racist and homophobic attack on Empire star Jussie Smollett, I wanted to respond immediately but I couldn’t. I couldn’t because I was paralyzed by trauma, guilt, anger and grief.
Trauma: While attending Indiana University in Bloomington, IN (southern Indiana), I was targeted near my on-campus apartment.
On my way home from class one evening, I noticed 2 white men with bald heads walking about 10 steps behind me on the opposite side of the street. Initially, I wasn’t concerned because this wasn’t uncommon. A couple minutes later I heard one of them say, “We’re gonna get us a nigger tonight.” I thought I was hearing things. This couldn’t be happening, right? I was wrong.
When I looked in their direction they were staring right at me with disdain and disgust in their eyes. My first instinct said, RUN! So, I dropped my heavy book bag because I knew it would slow me down and took off. They followed. My apartment was on the backside of the campus surrounded by wooded areas, so there weren’t too many places I could go. While I was being chased I was repeatedly called the n-word and my life was continuously threatened.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, I saw a door propped open that I knew would lock behind me if I could get in and close it fast enough. Thankfully, I was able to do just that. The door had a square glass window so I could see the two white men as they approached. When they attempted to open the locked door a look of defeat swept over their pale faces. As I removed my cellphone from my pocket to call campus police the two men ran off.
That day I was targeted simply because of the color of my skin. Only God knows what would’ve happened that evening had I not been able to out run them. Needless to say, I was traumatized by that experience. It has taken many therapy sessions for me to get to a place where it doesn’t constantly haunt my thoughts.
Guilt: Black and Brown LGBTQ people are attacked often, and I often remain silent. According to the F.B.I., hate crimes as a whole were on the rise for the third consecutive year in 2018. Nearly three of five were motivated by race and ethnicity, while sexual orientation and religion were cited as the other two major motivators. Yet, as a Black gay man I remained silent.
I felt guilty because I wanted to immediately create a Facebook post when Smollett, a celebrity was attacked. However, when my non-celebrity brothers and sisters are attacked and/or killed I remain silent. Guilt consumed me as I heard the voice of Dr. King saying, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I felt guilty as his words replayed over and over in my head.
As I felt this guilt I was forced to question my own complicity. My platform may not be large but I do have a voice. A voice that’s powerful enough speak up on behalf of my brothers and sisters who are victims of hate crimes. Our sympathetic responses and rallying cries of support can’t only be reserved for those in Hollywood.
“Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” ~ Dr. Maya Angelou
Anger: To say I’m angry is an understatement. I’m outraged, annoyed, aggrieved, furious, tight and (insert every synonym for angry here…). Why are we still here in 2019?! In my opinion, it has a lot to do with the man in the White House. He wants to build a wall to keep immigrants out, but refuses to do anything about his supporters who terrorize the American people daily. The behavior and silence of our current administration has created and propelled this egregious tolerance for violence and hate toward LGBTQ people and people of color in America.
“When the head is sick, the body will follow.”
The attack on Jussie Smollett was a form of terrorism, PERIOD. We should all be utterly disgusted by the prejudice, bigotry and homophobia we are still experiencing in today’s society. In order for us to move forward and heal as a nation we must…
STOP denying that systemic racism is still alive and thriving.
STOP regurgitating this toxic, life threatening “homosexuality is a sin” narrative.
STOP perpetuating and normalizing violence.
STOP denying MAGA is anything less than a dog whistle for lynch mob behavior. The “Make American Great Again!” slogan is merely a substitution for “White power!”.
STOP telling us it’s in our heads.
STOP telling us it’s our own fault.
Finally, Grief: I am deeply saddened by the hate crime that was inflicted upon Jussie Smollett, and the countless attacks on LGBTQ people that are rarely acknowledged. I’m also saddened by the non-queer Black folks who choose to only acknowledge the attack on Jussie’s Blackness, and refuse to give the attack on his gayness the equal acknowledgment it requires. What we are witnessing is the overt consequence of society’s deeply rooted struggle with sexuality and race.
Until all of us speak out and take these racist, homophobic and violent crimes seriously, we will continue to witness these senseless modern-day lynchings of Black lives.
As we move forward from this not-so-isolated attack on yet another Black, gay life I pray we’ve all learned something. I pray we all recognize the injustices that our Black LGBTQ brothers and sisters face daily. I pray that we can collectively challenge society’s tolerance for homophobia, transphobia and racism.
No one should EVER be attacked because of who they were created to be.