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 University.
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 for hazing.
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
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
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 a molehill.
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 fierce.
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 gay.
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
to contact the Rev. Monroe.