As Chicago police continued their search for two masked men who attacked “Empire” star Jussie Smollett, a crowd of more 100 gathered in frigid temperatures on February 1 at Grand Army Plaza opposite from the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan to show their solidarity with Smollett and all LGBTQ victims of hate violence.
The rally, called by VOCAL New York, brought together leaders from a number of local advocacy groups and was headlined by leading activists from communities of color. Among those who addressed the crowd were Zola Bruce from the Center for Anti-Violence Education, Angelica Torres, a model and transgender advocate who attended the Hetrick-Martin Institute’s Harvey Milk High School, author and activist James Felton Keith, Tabytha Gonzalez from the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, Tanya Walker from the New York Transgender Advocacy Group, and Beverly Tillery from the New York City Anti-Violence Project.
The speakers emphasized that in the rising tide of anti-LGBTQ violence over the past several years, transgender women of color have faced particular risk. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 29 transgender women were murdered in 2018, most of them women of color.
Among others on hand were Carl Siciliano, the founder of the Ali Forney Project, which provides housing and social services to homeless queer youth, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is a candidate in the public advocate special election on February 26, Jo Macellaro, and Anne Maguire from Revolting Lesbians, and Alyson Palmer from the band BETTY.
Smollett, on Saturday evening in West Hollywood, made his first concert appearance since the January 29 attack. According to Chicago police, the two assailants, still being sought, shouted racist and homophobic slurs at Smollett, punched him, poured a chemical liquid on him, and put a noose around his neck. They are also reported to have shouted that the victim was in “MAGA country” as they were fleeing the scene.
According to USA Today, following the West Hollywood concert, Smollett clarified that he suffered bruised, not broken, ribs and that he had not been hospitalized as originally reported.
He told the concert audience, “The most important thing I can say is thank you so much, and I’m okay… I’m not fully healed yet, but I’m going to. I’m going to stand strong with you all.”