The reports read like a nightmare come true for any queer person of colour.
Jussie Smollett—the gay black actor and star of Fox’s Empire—had been beaten, sprayed with bleach and subjected to a mock lynching, with a noose tied around his neck by his white male attackers.
There was an outpouring of sympathy from the LGBTQ+ community, the black community, and allies of both. But as the weeks went by, sentiment gave way to suspicion as it was claimed that Smollett orchestrated the attack for publicity. Last Thursday these accusations came to a head as the 36-year-old was charged with filing a false police report.
Chicago Police superintendent Eddie Johnson said that Smollett “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” a claim which the actor denies. While some took pity, others expressed disappointment and outrage. Many pointed out that his alleged actions could discredit real victims, serving only to harm people who are LGBTQ+, of colour, or both.
To be a queer person of colour is to be a double target. We face a disproportionate amount of violence from people both in and outside of our communities, never neatly fitting into any single box.
In Britain, race and sexual orientation are the two largest motivating factors in reported hate crimes, of which there was a 17 percent rise in 2017-18. According to Stonewall, one-third of all LGBTQ+ people of colour experienced a hate crime in 2017, compared to one in five white LGBTQ+ people.
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In the US, hate crimes have been steadily rising for three years. In 2017 (the year in which Donald Trump was inaugurated) there was a 17 percent spike in reported attacks, the majority of which were against people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community.
“The politics of Trump and of Brexit also pose a legal threat to minorities on both sides of the Atlantic.”
There’s a common theory that Trump’s election and the rise of global populism has emboldened racists, misogynists and homophobes – the fact that Smollett’s purported attackers chanted “this is MAGA country” came as little surprise. But, perhaps even more dangerously, the politics of Trump and of Brexit also pose a legal threat to minorities on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Trump administration has made rolling back transgender rights a centrepiece of its ideology. Trans servicepeople have been banned from serving in the military. Obama-era guidance for the handling of trans prisoners has been removed, as have protections for trans schoolchildren. Elsewhere the White House has attempted to expand discrimination on the basis of religious freedom, repeatedly ignored Pride month and shut out LGBTQ+ groups from its decision-making.
Here in Britain, we are scheduled to leave the EU in a matter of weeks. On Brexit Day, the EU charter—the single piece of legislation expressly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation—will cease to have effect, deal or no deal.
“Jussie Smollett might have lied about his attack—that much remains to be seen. But thousands of others did not.”
While there are other laws which protect the LGBTQ+ community, the government could theoretically scrap these at whim without the underpinning of the European Court of Human Rights. The police watchdog has already warned that Brexit could trigger a spike in hate crimes, as happened during the leave/remain campaign.
Jussie Smollett might have lied about his attack – that much remains to be seen. But thousands of others did not.
The victims of Canadian serial killer Bruce McArthur, for example, many of whom were immigrants from South Asia or the Middle East. The 25 or more trans women of colour murdered in the US in the last year. The victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
For all too many queer people of colour, violence is a real and increasing threat, so let’s not allow one man’s mistake to undermine that.
The views reflected in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of PinkNews.