A few years ago, during the previous administration, it seemed that the rights and freedoms for LGBTQ individuals were becoming more and more discussed. The legalization of gay marriage in the United States and groundbreaking developments in freedoms for transgender individuals might have even lulled the American people into a false sense of security regarding homophobia and transphobia in the country. The current administration has changed that. Even Vice President Mike Pence has been outspoken in his beliefs against homosexuality. In 2007, he voted against The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would’ve prevented sexuality-based discrimination in the workforce, and even related homosexuality to “societal collapse.” His wife has also recently returned to her job as an art teacher at a school with discriminatory policies. While it might seem that the personal choices of these individuals in power may have little effect on day-to-day life, this administration’s choices are undoing decades of LGBTQ civil rights, and even putting lives at risk.
On Jan. 29, 36-year-old African American actor, musician and activist Jussie Smollett was brutally attacked by two individuals early that morning. The two attackers allegedly approached Smollett, hit his face, poured chemicals on him and tied a rope in the fashion of a noose around his neck, all while yelling out racial and homophobic slurs as well as the phrase “MAGA country.” Smollett, like his character on the hit television show “Empire,” is openly gay.
Smollett reported the attack and received treatment at Northwestern Hospital. No arrests have been made, and newly surfaced surveillance videos may lead to an eventual identification of the attackers. Smollett returned to the stage less than a week later the following Sunday, getting emotional before his music performance. He said, “Regardless of what anyone else says, I will only stand for love. We hope that you all stand with us.”
This hate-fueled attack comes a week after a Supreme Court vote provided no legal changes or positions on the Trump administration’s ban on transgender individuals in the military, effectively holding the ban in place. Despite an opposing brief to the ban, which states that an individual’s gender identity doesn’t affect their quality as a soldier, the leaders of our nation are denying the right to serve and protect its citizens to those who want it most. If someone is willing to risk their life to protect our freedoms, why are we denying them basic freedoms of their own?
Policies and political support founded on fear and discrimination do nothing but embolden those who already maintain that mindset. While those who oppose the current administration’s statements and policies can easily brush off what they hear, those words have power. Individuals like the ones who attacked Smollett might start to think, “Well, if they are public in their hate, why can’t I be as well?” Actress Ellen Page put it best: “If you are in a position of power, and you hate people, and you want to cause suffering to them, you go through the trouble, you spend your career trying to cause suffering — what do you think is going to happen?”
The LGBTQ community has faced this kind of discrimination before with the HIV/AIDS crisis when the Reagan administration treated the disease and deaths of countless individuals as a joke until the epidemic had become too large to ignore. We simply cannot allow history to repeat itself in a similar manner. This is absolutely not the first and it sadly may not be the last time LGBTQ individuals face hate and discriminatory practices, but the community remains strong, open and full of love.
Elizabeth Short is a sophomore double-majoring in biology and English.