Recent Jussie Smollett Attack Calls for Response from Queer Theologians

Queer theologians must address current events, such as the recent Jussie Smollett case, to challenge hegemonic, heteronormative white supremacist society in the United States. For example, on January 29, 2019, Jussie Smollett, an openly gay, Black television star from the popular TV series Empirewas assaulted on the streets of Chicago. He was barraged with racial and homophobic slurs, dowsed with a bleach-like substance, and left battered with a noose around his neck. As the perpetrators ran away, they exclaimed, “This is Make America Great Again country!” While he was on the set of Empire a week before the attack, Smollett received an envelope  marked with the return address of “MAGA.” Inside the envelope there was a threatening letter that stated, “You will die Black fag.” Shortly after Smollett shared this information with the police, the authorities charged him with fabricating the attack to boost his fame. Ironically, the prosecution dropped the charges against Smollett a few months later. The dismissal of charges exposed the corruption of the criminal justice system. This essay discusses how queer theologians can use such current events of injustice to challenge the oppressive status quo in society.

For instance, current events like the Smollett case offer queer theologians the opportunity and obligation to apply queer theory and expose injustice systems to public scrutiny. As queer womanist theologian Pamela Lightsey contends, “Queer theory and queer theology must move out of the academy and onto the streets of [the United States] in solidarity with the oppressed and challenge the very idea of white superiority.”[1]Such movement requires queer theologians to integrate current events into their teaching and broadcast queer theory outsideacademia. Within the classroom, queer theologians must resist assimilation that reduces cultural learning and promotes white hegemony.[2]More importantly, queer theologians must relate queer theory to concrete examples of injustice evident in local and national media.[3]Such integration moves queer theory beyond an academic exercise and demonstrates its practical application in society. The public cannot act on queer theology if it remains ignorant of the theory that provides queer theology’s ideological basis. Society will remain unaware of queer ideology unless it is shared socially. Therefore, queer theologians must broadcast their queer theory and scholarship in public contexts outside academia, like church and other social networks, for societal awareness.[4]Ultimately, the public propagation of queer theory supports the oppressed and subverts the normativity imposed by the unjust, hegemonic, white supremacist context prevalent in much of the western world.[5]

In conclusion, queer theologians must actively subvert injustice by integrating current events, like the Jussie Smollett case, into their public discourse. Queer theory must move beyond academic exercise. Injustice obligates queer theologians to share their scholarship with the public to demonstrate how queer theory dismantles oppression practically. Without public awareness, these tools of subversion remain unknown and a hegemonic, heteronormative, white supremacist society persists without challenge. Integrating queer theory and stories of injustice informs the public and empowers them with queer ideologies that combat oppression.

[1]Pamela R. Lightsey, Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015), 98.

[2]Lightsey, 100.

[3]Lightsey, 100.

[4]Lightsey, 100.

[5]Lightsey, 100.