On Thursday morning (February 14), Jussie Smollett gave his first on-air interview since telling police that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in Chicago last month. And he did so because, he said, "people need to hear the truth."
Speaking with Good Morning America's Robin Roberts, the Empire actor admitted he was hurt that some doubted his account of the attack, which police are investigating as a suspected hate crime.
"I'm pissed off," he said. "It's the attackers, but it's also the attacks. ... I have to acknowledge the lies, and the hate. And it feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black [who attacked me], I feel like the doubters would have supported me much more. A lot more. And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now.
"It's not necessarily that you don't believe this is the truth; you don't even want to see this is the truth," he added.
Police say Smollett, who is openly gay, was assaulted on January 29 by two unknown offenders who wrapped a rope around his neck and poured a chemical substance on him. Smollett said the attackers also yelled racial and homophobic slurs at him and shouted "Make America Great Again" slogans.
Just hours after ABC's interview aired, CNN reported that Chicago police have identified two persons of interest in the assault case. They have not, however, made any arrests and have not found video of the alleged assault, leading some people to doubt Smollett's story about what happened. The 36-year-old actor, who wiped away tears throughout the interview, told Roberts he's "forever changed" by the incident, but is determined to seek justice for himself and on behalf of the entire LGBTQ community.
"Everybody has their own idea. Some are healing and some are hurtful, but I just want young people, young members of the LGBTQ community, young, black children, to know how strong that they are," he said.
"I will never be the man that this did not happen to," he added. "And I don't subscribe to the idea that everything happens for a reason, but I do subscribe to the idea that we have the right and responsibility to make something meaningful out of the things that happen to us — good and bad."