Jussie Smollett, a black, gay man was attacked on his way to a Subway. His attackers were white men who yelled homophobic and racist slurs. The internet is on fire. The next morning I was cooking breakfast and casually turned on Rent on Fox. Suddenly there it was – the funeral scene where a queer black man was crying out for his Latinx partner who had died, their friends crying and singing for the love they have, the love they lost, the fear and pain of the disease that was threatening all of them in one way or another. That scene wrecked me. I was literally crying into my eggs.
In the 80s and 90s, the queer community was screaming to the government, the public, to their friends and neighbors, calling out for them to recognize that AIDS was killing people they loved. They cried out to their country to help, to do something to stop the disease from killing people. But because the virus was considered a “gay disease” by most of our country, very little was done for so very long.
The internet is on fire talking about the hate crime against Jussie Smollett. Black. Gay. The hate was aimed at these two very beautiful parts of this man. The attack is rippling through our country. Black people and gay people are crying out for all of us to help, to do something to stop this kind hate from killing people.
Most of us have no idea what to do.
A few hours away from me, a man so much like me was attacked, a noose thrust around his neck. A few years away from today, a man was savagely killed in a murder that rocked the country.
When Matthew Shepard was killed, I was in middle school. I remember the news. I remember a seed of anxiety planting itself in my heart, growing immediately, quickly, through my entire body. I remember asking for the first time, “Could that happen to me?” And then… “Will this happen to me?”
It was twenty years ago, and I still remember the silence. There in my little Texas town, no one in earshot of me talked about Matthew Shepard. Not once. I was a young gay kid in the closet. I saw the horror on the tv screen. No one I loved or respected said anything about Matthew Shepard. No teachers. No ministers. No family. No friends.
I do not demonize the people I lived around twenty years ago (Some of them are the closest people in my life now). As an adult, I have experienced the emotional paralyzation that comes from an event that touches you, frightens you, and then gives you no answers. I have experienced the tangle of the news machine that loves it’s complexity, throws you around in it’s mental rock tumbler until you are raw and confused about which way is up. I have experienced the way the cycles of life lull you back into your rhythm. And those are just a few of the reasons a person might stay silent.
I have also experienced the creep of despair as the people you love and trust see news of something terrible happening and say nothing.
Do you want to fight the kind of hate that kills people? Here’s where you can start.
You have more power than you know. Start by using just the smallest portion of that power.
Use your words. Words can change a person’s life. Start there.
What I would have given in 1998 to see someone watch Matthew Shepard’s story on the news and then say, “No one should ever be hurt because of who the love.” That would have beat back the fear that gripped my little kid heart. I would have even settled for “No one should ever be hurt.” Or even, “My god. How wrong…” Anything would have mattered.
Are you watching Jussie Smollett’s story? Turn to someone black, someone gay, and say, “I love you.” Turn to someone black, someone gay, and say “Next time I vote, I’m thinking about you, your life, your dreams, and how my vote can make things better.” Turn to someone black, someone gay, and say, “I am going to try harder to do better, to make things better for you. I’m sorry that this happened. It shouldn’t be this way.”
This morning, while watching a gay man mourn his dead lover, I cried. I posted about my tears on Instagram. And my friend sent me a DM that said, “I love you.”
That was enough. That was the love I needed. It wasn’t everything, but it was something. It was a spark.
Start there. Say something. That could be the spark that lights a fire.
I made a few cards that you could use in your Instagram or Facebook Stories, or that you could send to a friend. And if you need someone to talk to, some resources, or you have a question about how to help, I may not have the answer, but we can try to find it together. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org