Editor’s Note: Bill Hinkle is an editorial producer for Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin on CNN. He lives in Los Angeles and previously served on the board for the LA Pride Festival and Parade. The views expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion articles on CNN.
My ex-boyfriend and I were walking home along Hollywood Boulevard late one night about 15 years ago, when, out of nowhere, we were blindsided by two men and their fists. It all happened so quickly, I don’t actually remember how it began. My first memory is pushing off one guy and turning around to see my boyfriend on the ground being kicked by the other. They were shouting anti-gay slurs at us. I ran over to my boyfriend, yelling for the guy to get off of him. That’s when either a boot or fist knocked me on the chin. I stumbled, dazed for a minute, and the next thing I remember was the blood pouring from my jaw onto the Walk of Fame.
I believe the whole incident only lasted about a minute. Being one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles, other people quickly noticed and began to shout. The two men ran off. They didn’t try to grab our wallets or phones. They just wanted to hurt us for being gay.
Over the years, the memories of the attack became less frequent. To be honest, I don’t remember the last time I thought about the incident until the Jussie Smollett story broke. Smollett, an actor who appeared on the Fox show “Empire,” told Chicago police he was attacked by two people who yelled racist and homophobic slurs at him, tied a rope around his neck and poured an unknown substance on him.
My first instinct was to believe anyone who would make up these allegations because I, too, along with my ex-boyfriend, was attacked by two men. It happens. As the news progressed and the story unfolded, like the rest of the country, I was fascinated with the developments. Why would someone make this up? What possible reason could anyone have to want to be a victim of violence? And then, when he was arrested this week and police said he had falsified the attack, my intrigue turned to anger and disappointment.
I’ve never considered myself a victim, although, I guess technically I am. Having grown up in the era of Matthew Shepard – the young man robbed, beaten and killed in 1998 for being gay – and hearing so many stories from friends about their own encounters with hatred and bigotry, I suppose I wasn’t too surprised that I was victimized.
But I’ve also been lucky to see the changes we’ve made in society. I remember when Ellen DeGeneres came out, when “Will & Grace” premiered, when Massachusetts legalized gay marriage. I was the only gay kid out at my high school, but now there are LGBTQ groups at schools around the country. The progress we’ve made over the past 20 years is remarkable.
Every possible scenario I can come up with for why Smollett would make up something like this saddens me. It saddens me for real victims of crime, for minorities who have endured violence in the name of hate and for whatever issues he may personally be struggling with. While we’ve come a long way, there’s still a lot of ignorance in this country, and I’m afraid Smollett’s alleged actions may only help perpetuate that ignorance. The bright side is that there are two fewer hateful bigots in our country than first reported.
Get our free weekly newsletter
My attackers? They were never caught.
If the Smollett charges turn out to be true, I can only hope Jussie Smollett recognizes what he’s done, apologizes for it and get the help he needs. I know this event will be with him for the rest of his life, just like the scar on my chin will be with me.