While Jussie Smollett‘s hate crime controversy plays out in the court system, Juno actress and gay rights advocate Ellen Page wants people to remember that regardless of the outcome, “hate violence exists” and “the merits of one case should not and cannot call that into question.”
In an essay for the Hollywood Reporter, Page, who publicly condemned the attack after it was reported and linked it to antigay rhetoric from the Trump administration, wrote that the conversation around Smollett “has led us all to examine hate violence and its implications and aftermath.” She said she “had no reason to doubt Jussie,” citing her work on the docuseries Gaycation, which chronicles LGBTQ stories and gave her a greater awareness about survivors of hate violence. “I know how prevalent and pernicious it can be. If this situation was staged, it could make victims even more reluctant to report these crimes. Very real crimes.”
Page, who came out as gay in 2014, urged that while the facts of Smollett’s case are being established, we shouldn’t “lose sight of the very real, endemic violence that LGBTQ+ people, people of color and other underrepresented communities face every day.” She wrote, “I ask you not to question our pain, not to draw into question our trauma, but to maintain, wholeheartedly, that hate violence exists. The merits of one case should not and cannot call that into question. The media coverage does not convey the reality and totality of the cruelty and danger we face. This is the story that must be told.”
Her essay cited FBI data from November showing that hate crimes in America rose 17 percent in 2017 — Trump’s first year in office. The total number of hate crimes was the highest since 2008.
“When the rhetoric we read and the hate speech we hear comes from our politicians, our media and entertainment, our neighbors and families and our religious leaders, we internalize the pain in damaging, self-defeating ways,” wrote Page. “We are wary and afraid to report hate violence. We lose hope as we continue to be victimized. The cruelty, the hate and the words manifest shame.”
Page also cited stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics and others stating that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth’s risk of suicide is significantly greater than that of their peers. “Cruel words and laws and beliefs cause real suffering,” she wrote. “Queerphobia/transphobia is violence perpetrated on our children, our families, our friends and neighbors and the forgotten among us who have no voice. We all have to work together to end the normalization of anti LGBTQ+ sentiment and rhetoric.”
In the essay, Page wrote that “as a queer but white cisgender woman, I benefit from the protections and safety that my income and status afford me.” However, she has not “escaped the threats of violence and the very real acts of violence and harassment that threaten and endanger our community and other underrepresented people. I endured bullying and sexual violence as a child and teenager on the street and in my professional life. My heart breaks for the people I’ve met who cannot protect themselves and who are objects of scorn, hatred, discrimination and violence because of the social and political context in which they live.”
Page, who married dancer and choreographer Emma Portner in 2018, concluded: “No child, no teenager, no adult — no one deserves to be victimized because of who they are. No one should feel shame for who they were born to be or to live their life in fear.” And she promised she’ll use her “voice and visibility to continue speaking” and she asked others in the entertainment industry “to join me.”
After Smollett was hospitalized, Page addressed his purported attack in an interview on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, during which she condemned the attack and said that the beliefs of members of the Trump administration breed hatred in America. “The vice president of America wishes I didn’t have the love with my wife,” she said about Vice President Mike Pence. “He wanted to ban that in Indiana. He believes in conversion therapy.” She went on to tell viewers to “connect the dots” between the homophobic rhetoric and hate violence.
Last week, there was a twist in the Smollett case when he was arrested after Chicago police claimed he staged the attack because he was “dissatisfied with his salary” on Empire. The investigation continues, but he maintains that he is the victim.
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