The ‘Empire’ star, Jussie Smollett, a black, openly gay actor was hospitalized after encountering a possible homophobic assault at the early hours of Tuesday, January 29, 2019. Smollett was said to have been walking when he was attacked by two people “yelling out racial, and homophobic slurs, poured an unknown chemical substance on him and then concluded by wrapping a rope around his neck” Chicago police department has neither confirmed the gender of the offenders, nor identified the chemical substance. Jussie found his way to North-western Hospital where he was cared for and discharged. Chicago police are calling it a possible hate crime and all investigations are being carried out.
Smollett is popularly known for his role on Fox’s TV series ‘Empire’ where he played ‘Jamal’ a successful singer in the musical Lyon family. Like his character, Smollett identifies as gay. Jussie is a proud advocate of the LGBTQ community and is loved by many all around the world. Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign said the attack was “unfortunately not an isolated incident” he continued that “there is an alarming epidemic of hate violence in the country, that disproportionately targets black people, LGBTQ people, and religious minorities, particularly those living at the intersection of multiple identities.”
Messages of support have been pouring in from fans, fellow celebrities as well as LGBTQ+ groups around the world for Smollett, many continue to advocate for love and not hate, while some were relieved he was doing fine, and hoped for the best.
HOMOPHOBIA IN AFRICA
While Jussie’s attack has received numerous responses from all over the world, from people who are standing up for the right of the actor to be treated fairly and with respect, irrespective of his race or sexuality. It is horrifying to say that such attacks and more have become a daily experience for the LGBTQ folks in Africa, and other parts of the world where homosexuality is still a sensitive issue and should not be heard about.
Homophobia which encompass a range of negative attitude and feelings towards homosexuality or people who identify as a part of the LGBTQ+ community. It is not uncommon that LGBTQ+ community are constantly being harassed, put through social ridicule, and in most cases prosecuted, and put in jail if caught in the act or found to be an ally of such. Homophobia was said to have increased in African history after missionaries and colonial administrations categorized homosexuality as a perversity and un-African.
HOMOPHOBIC PRACTICES IN NIGERIA
Due to the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that was passed in Nigeria, many gays have fled the country because of intolerance of their sexual persuasion, and more are considering leaving. This is only effective for the people who can afford to leave the country, while those who couldn’t, must deal with mental distress, societal shaming, constant ridicule, blackmail,
prosecution, hate crimes and many more insults that trails the gender-non-conforming, homosexuals, effeminate men and even transgender individuals in the country.
Ayo Sogunro, a Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist for The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) said “The law had encouraged a number of ordinary citizens to act on their intolerance in the guise of obeying the law. It has also provided unscrupulous officials with additional leverage for their profiling and extortion rackets.”
The police are always on the lookout for any individual that may suggest involvement in the LGBTQ+ community. According to Daniel Okoye, a paralegal helping LGBTQ people in Nigeria, “the police saw the arrests as an easy way of extorting money from the victims,” who are desperately trying to keep it a secret? Many have long gotten used to faking being straight as a means of survival in this nation, and for the others who could not do such, they live in fear of being discovered, beaten, robbed, or worse raped to convert lesbians. Many religious organizations also conduct prayers, fasting, and deliverance to remove the ‘spirit of homosexuality,’ thereby exposing the individual to mental torture, self-hate and multiple cases of mental illnesses.
Homosexuality is punishable by law, and until that is changed, it is advisable for LGBTQ+ folks to tread carefully, ascertain their safety before visiting unfamiliar areas, and apply wisdom when it involves meeting new people especially the supposed queer friends. And to those who do not identify as LGBTQ+, it is always good to remember that we all have one thing in common, humanity, and that alone, if wielded properly, is Enough to promote unity.