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What The Jussie Smollett Case Means For The Black LGBTQ Community


What's this story mean for other people who report discrimination or hate crimes? We turn now to Stacey Long Simmons, director of advocacy and action at the National LGBTQ Task Force, which has been around since the 1970s. She's in our studios. Good morning.


INSKEEP: So we'll just remind people Smollett is both black and openly gay, described a racist and homophobic attack, which police now say is fake. And they've offered the evidence we just heard describe. What kinds of responses are you hearing to this?

SIMMONS: Well, we're hearing a number of responses - first of all, deep, deep disappointment, as it appears as if this whole situation has just been concocted in a means of having a publicity grab. I do say, though, you know, he's entitled to due process. And I think that we're going to continue to monitor and see how things unfold, given the statements made recently by his attorney.

INSKEEP: Does this make things more difficult for people who really are attacked, really are discriminated against when they try to come forward and hope to be believed?

SIMMONS: Yeah, without a question. I think that it's already difficult. And our community has been fighting for decades, to have recognition to have attention paid to our very real jeopardy and concerns when we are out in public spaces. This happens to be the 50th-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprisings in New York. And so we're going to actually use, though, what happened with Jussie as an opportunity to further educate the broader public about the reality of our lives.

INSKEEP: The Stonewall uprising - that was the beginning of the modern gay rights movement...

SIMMONS: That's right.

INSKEEP: ...As we understand it today.

SIMMONS: That's right.

INSKEEP: This seems to have been a difficult story for you. I know that you were among those on Twitter who were supporting Jussie Smollett, saying that MAGA supporters attacked Jussie Smollett for being black and gay. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.

SIMMONS: Yeah. I mean, I definitely came from a heartfelt place in the beginning. It immediately took me back to my own college years in the late '80s. I was off site on campus. And a group of white, young men in a car slowed down and yelled N-B to me as I was, you know, walking outside the campus. And it really struck me cold. I just couldn't believe that that had happened. It didn't occur to me at the time to report it to anyone. I didn't even perhaps understand it to be a hate crime or an incident of bias attack towards me. But I know that it was very stunning and struck me to my core at the moment.

INSKEEP: Which, I guess, would explain your reaction here. You hear this story, and you respond to it because something real happened in your own life. Granting that you want to give him the presumption of innocence, though, were you betrayed?

SIMMONS: I don't - I reserve judgment. I really do. I think that, yes, he's a celebrity. He has a certain level of responsibility towards the community. He set himself out to be a mentor. He certainly gave a compelling interview to Robin Roberts, et cetera. But we know for a fact that there's been a spike in hate crimes. We know that the FBI has recently released their 2017 statistics, citing 17 percent increase over the last year.


SIMMONS: We know that transgender women of color continue to be victims of crimes and attacks and homicides. And often cases - those are unsolved murders. So it's not as if there isn't any there there. It's just that this particular incident is appearing to be a hoax.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And we can cite statistics. The Human Rights Campaign had a survey finding that 40 percent of LGBTQ youth describe themselves as being bullied on school property. There are a lot of numbers out there, a lot of different surveys. What do you make, though, of some of the reaction, particularly from conservatives and from President Trump supporters who have jumped on this and said people were eager to rush to judgment, eager to blame white people, eager to blame the president for this?

SIMMONS: Yeah, well, I guess I think that those energies are better spent supporting some of the concerns that I addressed earlier. I think that if people really are concerned about this fake incident, they should redirect that energy and actually join our cause and join our effort to really save lives. I mean, you mentioned schools. Definitely, schools are unfortunately in this country the hotbed of major activity happening to students. I was quite surprised to read some of those statistics. And I think in addition to the bias and the bullying that's happening, I think that students are really going to school daily concerned about gun violence. That's certainly something that's topical and of news. So I would just sort of redirect them in that direction.

INSKEEP: Stacey Long Simmons, thanks for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

SIMMONS: Thank you so much for having me.

INSKEEP: She is director of advocacy and action at the National LGBTQ Task Force. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.