Hate crimes are real, Florida lawmaker says. He should know.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, is turning the Jussie Smollett controversy into a teachable moment by sharing his own experience as the survivor of an assault.
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, tweeted out this week that he was the victim of a 2003 hate crime. [Twitter]
Published Feb. 23, 2019

Hate crimes are real. Just ask state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.

Chicago’s police chief is accusing “Empire” star Jussie Smollett of using the “advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career” by paying two men to stage an attack on him last month.

The allegations concerning Smollett, who is black and gay, sparked an international avalanche of commentary and ignited concerns that reports of the bogus attack could have a chilling effect on victims of hate-related violence.

Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is gay, is turning the controversy into a teachable moment, by sharing his own experience as the survivor of an assault.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D- Orlando. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D- Orlando. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]

While a student at the University of Central Florida, Smith and his friend, Heath Frank, were beaten up at a keg party by a man who repeatedly called his two victims “f------” after he was arrested, according to a police report.

“I decided to finally tell this very deeply personal story because the reality is that hate crimes are real. Homophobia is real. Bigotry is real. And hate violence is on the rise against many groups. Anti-Semitism is on the rise. Hate violence against transgender women of color is on the rise, especially in Florida,” Smith said in a telephone interview.

Smith took to Twitter on Thursday about his experience as a survivor of “senseless hate violence,” posting a picture of his battered face and a police report of the incident.

The attacker, identified as Eduardo Alessandro Mongio in court documents provided by Smith, was “lingering around” and “acting kind of weird” at a crowded keg party, Smith said.

After beating up Frank, the attacker confronted Smith.

“I didn’t know what was going on. But I got banged up pretty bad. When the dust settled, everyone was telling me about how the guy was making all these homophobic slurs about our group, because hey, listen, we travel in cliques. We queer people, we stick together,” Smith said. “I don’t remember if the guy was drunk or what his deal was, but he started lashing out. It was like a full-fledged gay-bashing.”

Smith said he “felt compelled to speak out” as the controversy around Smollett exploded.

“I don’t know what the outcome is going to become of the Jussie Smollett case. But I can already see there’s a narrative out there that hate crimes aren’t real. No. They are. And they’re on the rise. Especially with the election of Donald Trump, who wears hate for other groups on his sleeve,” he said.