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We Should All Protect Our Cubs Like Cookie Lyon

Photograph by FOX

Cookie Lyon is the African-American mother every black and gay child needs.

The first season of Fox's new show "Empire" is being touted as a modern-day "Dynasty." The network is celebrating because the show's viewers increase each week, which is quite unusual. I love the show so I think it all very exciting.

"Empire" is full of compelling dramatic scenarios, but the most moving story line (to me) is the one of black gay son and his father's attempt to deny him his place in the family.

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Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that the African-American community has been one of the most resistant to embracing the progress being made by the gay community. Having seen this resistance all of my life, even within the walls of my childhood home, I'd say that most of the resistance comes from religious practices and beliefs. Within the black community, there is an unbreakable faith in Jesus and the tenets of Christianity. And according to all but the most progressive Christian doctrine, being gay or lying with a person of the same sex is a sin and abomination against God. These beliefs are held deeply and widely within the black community still today.

"Empire"'s portrayal of what goes on in African-American families is beyond brilliant. The creator of the show, Lee Daniels, a free gay man ("free" meaning that he is out in the open and not enslaved by cultural views) has gone directly into homes and bedrooms of many African-Americans to tell our dirty secrets and shine light on our shame. And he is doing so beautifully with pure entertainment.

My desire is that Daniels will continue to challenge the African-American community to see that no one deserves to be thrown away and that all our children have great value. Gay lives matter.

The most poignant scene is one they've revisited throughout the season. In it, the son Jamal (played by Jussie Smollet), is a very young boy when he sashays into the living room, wearing his mother's shoes and a head scarf. Lucious, the father (played by Terrence Howard), is so angered by this that he picks the child up, takes him outdoors, and dumps him in the garbage. Cookie, the mother (played by Taraji P. Henson), runs after her son and retrieves him. Holding her son tightly in her arms to protect him, Cookie then begins cursing and kicking her husband for being so cruel to their son. Wow.

In a recent interview with Vogue, Henson was asked about that scene.

Q: Your character's relationship with her gay son, Jamal, is really beautiful. When Cookie defends him so passionately from his rejecting dad, where did those emotions come from?

A: Once a mother; always a mother. I'm a mother in real life, so I don't have to act. When it's time to protect our child, as parents, we feel our kid's pain harder than they do. I tried to explain that to my son. The closest he came to understanding was through his relationship with our dog. He said, I feel that way about Willy. We carry them for nine months. I could only imagine having a child that a father rejects.

I feel like Lucious rejects him out of fear. When he puts Jamal in the trash can, he wanted to throw him away before the world threw him away. He wanted to hide his son from everyone—the ugliness of being a black gay male to the world. Fear will do anything, and Cookie understands the pain on both sides. Cookie is never going to hate her child for being who he is, but she fears for his life, too, because he's gay and black. It's deep.

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In reality, I have never seen a mother of a gay child be so fierce in loving and protecting her child. Personally, I have seen the denial and rejection that continues to exist today. But that's not to say that that mother doesn't exist out there somewhere. Fox, Lee Daniels, and "Empire" are serving to shine a light on the bigotry that still occurs within the African-American community today.

Even as gay people are making great political and social strides, the religious influences continue to have a stranglehold on some of us. It is my hope that seeing the mother's unconditional love and protection for her son might help my community see itself more clearly. My desire is that Daniels will continue to challenge the African-American community to see that no one deserves to be thrown away and that all our children have great value. Gay lives matter.

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