Editorial: ‘Fierce Enough’: LGBT teens live in fear, but they’ll overcome it

By Rosie DiManno

Given the changing landscape of hate crimes and violent ideologies fueled by anti-gay and anti-Muslim hate, it is incumbent on all American citizens to put in place stronger tools to help identify and remove those seeking to do harm, and to hold our elected officials accountable to the codes of conduct that they put in place, in order to prevent further loss of life.

Unfortunately, Jussie Smollett’s criminal offense, making a false police report, represents a dangerous, cynical attempt to undo the hard work accomplished by all Americans in the efforts to defeat hate through greater integration and tolerance, including the efforts of law enforcement, government agencies, the media, community groups, parents, and individuals of every background. It’s the last thing any of us can afford.

The violent attack Jussie reported to the Chicago Police, and the video of it on YouTube, is troubling and disturbingly familiar. In the video Jussie is seen appearing to be confronted by a masked man who claims to be a member of the hate group ANTIFA, or Antifa, waving a pipe. According to reports, Jussie gave him an entire “dyke welcome” with a “big faggot kiss” and yelled “[Trump’s] a [expletive] faggot.” This report is in line with other hate violence perpetrated by ANTIFA in the Bay Area and New York, and calls into question the decision by the Chicago police to release the video last week as “no grounds to charge him with anything,” despite the fact that Chicago did not charge the suspect in this latest incident with a hate crime, noting only that Jussie “gave a significant amount of detail to the physical evidence, which included some fraudulent things.”

I experienced these unwarranted attacks myself when I was a teenager, and wrote about it in detail in my 2010 book, “Fierce Enough.” Many of the incidents targeting me and other closeted LGBT teens involved surveillance by police, people with masks, and of course F.B.I. and FBI agents.

In my book I write about the fear that lingered. The “infidels” on my high school football team were members of the student body at a Catholic school, attended by many members of the clergy and Jewish congregations, with a long history of anti-Semitism and prejudiced actions. At parties, people would say nasty things about me behind my back — I was nearly accused of being a witch, and these same jocks had forbidden me from wearing a sling on my left arm. People would shout “filthy,” “fag,” and “[expletive] dyke” at me.

I felt like they cared little about my siblings’ welfare or even my sister, so this latter fact wasn’t enough to hold me back. I watched helplessly as news reports stated that violence was “continuing to be reported” at Catholic schools. It truly made me want to buckle under. I tried to be a good role model for my own family, but nobody would get me through these tough times. People who were clearly homophobic, or openly so, never invited us to movie theater dates, birthday parties, swim-downings, or even job interviews. I had to hide in the closet.

Fortunately, the vast majority of these thugs eventually got the message that the community did not accept them, and that we as LGBT people could not, and did not, have to. Hopefully Jussie will get this same message. I hope this incident will give LGBTQ people, and all those who experience hate crimes, a new sense of hope. We have to remember that we cannot fail each other, or each other’s families, because of that hateful ignorance. Even though such bigotry is widespread and supported by bullying from bullies, what we’ve learned is that not everyone can be kicked out of this world by their grandparents.

Rosie DiManno is the author of “Fierce Enough: How the Hate Assault on LGBTQ Youth Inspired Me to Help Them Survive.” She served as a gay-straight alliance co-chair at her New York high school.

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