Hazing or Hate?

Was A Florida College Student Hazed To Death Because He Was Gay?

It looks like there were a few issues at play in the November 2011 hazing death of Florida A&M student Robert Champion, Jr. The most recent development to come to light is that he was gay.

Does that part matter, though? Was he hazed more severely for being gay or was he treated differently because of other views?

Champion’s body was found on a bus after a football game last fall—an autopsy ruled his death was a homicide and that the 26-year-old drum major “suffered blunt trauma blows to his body and died from shock caused by severe bleeding.” It appears as if his death was caused by overzealous hazing from fellow FAMU band members.

Lawyer Christopher Chestnut, speaking on behalf of the Champion family in a press conference this morning, claims that his personal investigation uncovered that Robert was fiercely anti-establishment and resented hazing practices in general.

“Robert Champion was the poster child of anti-hazing. He threatened the very institution of hazing in this band,” said Chestnut. “This is not a hate crime. This is a hazing crime.”

Chestnut also learned, according to ABC News, that Champion was gay—a fact he kept mostly hidden from his family.

Champion’s parents were vaguely aware of his sexuality, but did not know that there were rumors of a connection to his death.

“Robert did have an alternative lifestyle,” said Chestnut, who claims insiders told him that wasn’t a primary factor in the hazing, however. “It’s difficult to know the true motives of every person.”

While Chestnut wants to keep the issue black-and-white—either he was hazed more severely for his anti-hazing views or for being gay—it’s likely a combination of the two. So, yes, it was a hazing crime, first and foremost. But investigators would be remiss if they didn’t investigate how much homophobia played into it as well.

But did race?

As we wrote this blog post, an e-mail from the National Black Justice Coalition popped up in our inbox, calling for an investigation into Champion’s death as a possible hate crime.

Writes NBJC director Sharon Lettman-Hicks:

Anti-gay violence is not only a civil rights issue; it is a Black issue. It is a Black issue because violence against gay and transgender individuals is disproportionately affecting our Black youth. The civil rights community can no longer stand on the sidelines while our sons and daughters continue to suffer in silence. Mr. Champion is one of our own and his death will not be in vain.

That is why I am calling on the Black and LGBT communities to join NBJC in demanding a fair and thorough investigation. Be it hazing or hate crime, justice must be served.

While police investigation and court rulings might tell us who’s responsible for Champion’s death, we may never truly know why he was killed.

Whatever the reason, another young talented gay person is dead. R.I.P. Robert.

Photo: NBJC