Local LGBT advocates said they are troubled by allegations that “Empire” star Jussie Smollett made up a story that he had been the victim of a homophobic and racist attack in Chicago.
“I feel betrayed,” said Ernest Owens, a journalist and activist here in the city. “I feel like it would have been harder to believe that someone would make something up like this rather than it be true in this current political climate.”
The number of hate groups and hate crimes has increased across the country in recent years. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported just this week that the number of hate groups in the U.S. in 2018 was the highest it’s been in two decades.
“There has been a rise in hate crimes since the Trump administration and there’s been many, especially in Philadelphia, who have actually experienced real racial and homophobic attacks,” Owens said. “As a Black gay man, it’s already hard enough for me in this country and now he has giving even more credence to people who are ready and willing to discredit members of our community.”
Smollett was arrested Thursday on charges he filed a false police report. Police said Smollett staged the attack to further his career.
Chad Dion Lassiter, is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Humans Relations Commission, which protects and enforces civil rights among residents of the commonwealth, says the public needs to hear from Smollett since his arrest.
“The fact that this is made up is deeply troubling and traumatic for victims who have been targeted because of sexual identity and sexual orientation,” Lassiter said. “It’s also deeply problematic for victim advocates standing up for those who have been targeted because of homophobia, xenophobia and transphobia.”
Amber Hikes, the executive director for the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs, said “misreporting crimes only pushes the true victims into the shadows.”
“Now more than ever it is important that we remain adamant in calling out hate or bias when we see it and that we report hate crimes when they happen,” Hikes said in an emailed statement to The Tribune. “We cannot let victims feel like they are alone or that they may face skepticism when reporting a crime. I will continue to stand with the black LGBTQ+ community, who continue to feel the emotional, psychological, and physical effects of centuries of systemic oppression.”
Owens’ advice for Smollett is to take accountability for his actions, to step away from the spotlight and seek intervention.
“He has now provided a massive distraction to the current conversation,” Owens added. “We could be talking about Black History Month and celebrating each other this February, but now we are having to talk about and address this scandal.”