Robert Champion, Jr.’s
murder may never be solved. And
those who struck the fatal blows will never disclose whether
they used the guise of hazing as an accidental homicide
to cover up an intended hate crime.
Champion was an usual
student to be at one of the Historically Black Colleges
and Universities (HBCU). He was openly gay, and a drum
major slated to be the head drum major next school year.
And, at HBCUs, drum majors are usually heterosexual macho
brothers equivalent to captains of football teams.
On November 19, 2011,
Champion, a music major from Atlanta, was one of six drum
majors of the famous Florida A&M University (FAMU)
Marching “100” band who traveled to Orlando for the annual
Florida Classic football game between FAMU and Bethune-Cookman
At the end of the
game that evening, Champion was found dead aboard a band
bus, the result of blunt trauma suffered from flogging.
Thirteen band members, who asked to remain anonymous for
fear of retribution, each independently stated to police
that Champion was forced onto a band bus with a reputation
Law enforcement and
the medical examiner ruled Champion’s death a homicide.
But rumors that he was singled out because of his sexual
orientation forces HBCUs to once again examine its institutional
heterosexism along with its students’ individual and group
activities of anti-gay violence.
highly publicized 2002 gay-bashing incident has no doubt
taught HBCUs very little in terms of developing safe,
nurturing and culturally competent schools with support
services for its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and
queer (LGBTQ) administration, faculty and student body.
November 4, 2002, a Morehouse College student sustained a fractured skull from his classmate, sophomore
Aaron Price, not surprisingly, the son of an ultra- conservative
minister. Price uncontrollably beat his victim on the
head with a baseball bat for allegedly looking at him
in the shower.
the 1980s and 1990s, it was more dangerous to be openly
GBTQ on Morehouse’s campus than it was on the streets
in gang-ridden black neighborhoods. And throughout the
1990s Morehouse was listed on the Princeton Review’s top
20 homophobic campuses.
2012, HBCUs as a whole are still slow to take on the public
challenge on LGBTQ issues for a few reasons: Some schools
were founded with conservative religious affiliation,
and Black colleges are no different from African American
communities in general, which is why some in the
FAMU community argue, suggesting that Champion’s death
was about his being gay is creating a mountain out of
who cares? Unless his sexual orientation was the reason
why he was beaten to death, then it’s quite irrelevant.
We had previously heard about him being gay, but we declined
on reporting about it because if the police were told
this when they characterized his death a result of hazing
and didn’t connect the two to say this was a hate crime,
then why throw it out there? I’m sure Robert Champion
wasn’t the first homosexual to pledge a fraternity.” (Source)
No one in the FAMU
community wants to broach the topic of Champion’s sexual
orientation as a possible motivating factor for the incident.
And the push back from students and administration is
an institutional shift at FAMU needs to take place, embracing
an inclusive acceptance of its students’ various sexual
orientations and gender identities, FAMU will work indefatigably
to ward off lawsuits (The Champions cannot sue FAMU for
six months because of the state institution is protected
under a sovereign immunity).
In an anemic attempt
to exonerate FAMU band director, Dr. Julian White, of
any culpability concerning Champion’s death, Chuck Hobbs,
his attorney, released a statement that reveals both ignorance
about anti-gay violence as well as no desire to change
the culture that brought about Champion’s murder.
that the assertions of the Champion family and their attorney
Chris Chestnut are true, then it is entirely possible
that Champion’s tragic death was less about any ritualistic
hazing and more tantamount to a hateful and fully conscious
attempt to batter a young man because of his sexual orientation.
As such, the efforts Dr. White expended to root out and
report hazing could not have predicted or prevented such
We may never know
if Champion’s beat down from “hazing” was an accidental
homicide or an intended hate crime.
But these are the
facts we know presently:
Champion was forced
onto a band bus with a reputation for hazing; he was a
vocal opponent against hazing, a band disciplinarian,
slated to be head drum major, and he had an “alternative
lifestyle.” Everyone in the FAMU community is willing
to talk about all these issues except about him being
Editorial Board member, the Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion
columnist, theologian, and public speaker. She
is the Coordinator of
the African-American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and
Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific
School of Religion.
A native of Brooklyn,
Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union
Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served
as a pastor at an African-American church before coming
to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford
Fellow. She was recently named to MSNBC’s list of 10 Black Women You Should Know. Reverend Monroe is the author
of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible Prayers for Not’So’Everyday Moments.
As an African-American feminist theologian, she speaks
for a sector of society that is frequently invisible.
Her website is
to contact the Rev. Monroe.