Editor’s Note: LZ Granderson is a journalist and political analyst. He was a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and the Hechinger Institute at Columbia University, and is a co-host of ESPN’s “SportsNation” and ESPN LA 710’s “Mornings With Keyshawn, LZ and Travis.” Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @lzgranderson. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
We know the “who.” It’s the reason the story gathered national attention in the first place. We mostly know the “when,” “where” and “how.” They were the reasons for immediate doubts.
But we may not have much interest in the “why,” because there cannot possibly be a justifiable reason to fabricate a story about being assaulted with a noose by alleged racists.
At this point, the only question of importance is “what?” As in what will the LGBTQ community do with Jussie Smollett if his account of being attacked by bigots in January is not true.
I continue to hold a sliver of hope that the dots that continue to feel so far apart will eventually connect and the picture before us will show he was telling the truth all along. I hold hope that those faint whispers that began almost as quickly as the story made its way across the networks will be silenced, that Smollett will be vindicated. And the people who took to social media to demand justice for him will not be left to look like fools.
At a time in which stories of discrimination are met with a disturbing amount of cynicism, the last thing anyone who is a champion of equality wants to see is an openly gay black man give birth to a “fake news” poster child. But, unfortunately, if what police are saying is true, that is what appears to have happened.
The two men who were arrested on Wednesday in relation to the alleged attack were released soon thereafter without charges. Chicago police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said, “we can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the ‘Empire’ case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation.”
Now there are reports that Smollett may have paid the two men to stage the whole thing, something his lawyers vehemently deny – stating, “Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.” But something happened that January night, and we deserve to know the truth.
One’s natural instinct is to ask “why?” But, if Smollet made up the story, does it really matter what he says? What could he possibly say that would make any of this theater justifiable, him hireable or even likable? After all, how can anyone like someone who diverts detective hours away from solving actual crimes or goes on “Good Morning America” to chastise people who doubted his fictitious claims?
There is no value in his “why” – only in our “what,” which, admittedly, is an awful place to be. With so few openly gay minorities in the public eye, what are we supposed to do with a gay black man who appears to have lied about being attacked for being a gay black man?
Do we not look foolish to welcome home the boy who cried MAGA, especially given the damage he caused? Political allies, like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who took to social media on his behalf, may be just a tad hesitant to do so in the future.
Those who oppose LGBTQ rights have also been somewhat empowered. Typically, when gay and transgender people are assaulted – even murdered – there is little national media attention given. And now, with Smollett’s possible hoax, the names of actual transgendered victims become even harder to hear.
Look, it’s perfectly fine to sully one’s platform with a reckless indiscretion, but how do you forgive a celebrity who has potentially damaged the credibility of millions who are less fortunate?
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I wish to God I knew.
Or better yet, I pray to God I don’t ever have to find out.
Many of my gay friends reached out to me over the past few days asking for my thoughts, because they were skeptical of Smollett’s account from the very beginning. For days, we talked among ourselves, asking each other if he could have simply made the whole thing up for some sort of twisted personal gain.
Now that our fears appear to inch a bit closer to reality, many are wondering out loud “why.”
I, on the other hand, am still hoping that he’s telling the truth. It may be naïve, but it’s a hell of a lot better than trying to answer the “what” – as in what do we do next?