In the early morning hours of January 30, 2019 Jussie Smollett, singer/actor/ LGBTQ activist reported to Chicago police that he was a victim of a racist and homophobic attack. The Chicago Police Department began investigating the case as a possible hate crime. Social media blazed with polarizing and knee jerk opinions.
As I closely watched media reports and spoke to people whom I knew thought critically and analytically about these issues, it affirmed my opinion: he was a victim.
But the dizzying developments—the alleged assailants being his trainers, the grainy video, and the TV interview—made my opinion fluctuate. Today, I’m 100% Team Jussie. This is why.
The facts presented by the police were fuzzy and constantly changing. The fact is LGBQT people are always suspected of being “wrong”, sometimes by virtue of just existing. How could I not support a gay man of color?
Then I saw the “Good Morning America” interview with Robin Roberts. It didn’t feel “right.” As Roberts gently prodded, his confrontational and nonverbal defensiveness felt dismissive of her trying to get to the truth. This was a real chance to potentially sway opinion but he came off as weak and suspicious. My doubts about his story began to creep in.
In February the case took a turn. Investigators found a blurry video that cast suspicions on Smollett’s allegations. A grand jury found probable cause that he may have staged the attack. He was then arrested, charged with felon disorderly conduct, and was released on bond.
As an immigrant, Latino gay man I, and a large group of my tribe, were furious at the thought Smollet was lying. I work as Executive Director of a non-profit that exclusively serves LGBTQ+ people of color. My responsibility is to drive a positive narrative that centers, affirms and uplifts the often-erased narrative of LGBTQ+ people of color. I fight – literally –everyday to do this. If Jussie did lie – he just shifted the collective narrative of LGBTQ+ in a negative way.
In a confusing turn of events, Chicago prosecutors dropped all 16 counts of disorderly conduct and all records were sealed. That’s when it hit me: his story was more layered and complex than I had initially thought. Now we may never know the truth of what happened that night.
This put me squarely back in Jussie’s corner.
Marginalized groups are being unjustly governed by an administration that does not provide and honor facts. I don’t have all the facts and require them, so until then I will stand in solidarity with him.
We live in a country where historically the contributions of the LGBTQ+ and people of color have been treated with suspicion. It is unjust that Jussie’s activism and work with, and for, these communities is being eclipsed by this incident.
More importantly, the US justice system was not created with us in mind. The Chicago police have systemically and notoriously mistreated and not served black and brown communities. Similarly, the LGBTQ movement (and our current legal rights) was launched thanks to the Stonewall Inn Riot in 1969 when police tried to beat our existence out of us. While Jussie has allegedly broken the law, it is seldom the legal system has upheld it for us.
However you see this, it’s a devastating and confusing situation where all players are marred by suspicion. I am not minimizing Jussie’s deplorable actions if he did it. I won’t defend or apologize for him. That’s his job.
The fact is, everyone has lied or not been our best selves at times. And many of us have broken the law intentionally or not. I stopped shaming and judging him because the antidote to that is empathy.
I also know that regardless of how hard you fall, it is how you rise that counts. I am confident he will rise up because we all have the ability to. That is why I am team Jussie.