As if this story didn’t have enough incendiary aspects to it already — race, class, the culture of hazing and violence — let’s add the possibility that Robert Champion, a Florida A&M University drum major who died last November after a hellacious beating he allegedly received at a band hazing ritual, was the victim of a homophobia-based hate crime.
That’s what the attorney for the slain young man is reporting, saying friends have told him that Champion was gay. (CNN):

Friends of Robert Champion, a Florida A&M University drum major who died in November after allegedly being beaten as part of a band hazing ritual, have told his family’s attorney that Champion was gay, attorney Chris Chestnut said Tuesday. Relatives said they believe sexual orientation may have been one of many factors that could have contributed to Champion being treated more severely than other band members may have been, Chestnut said.

The family of Robert Champion, who died in November after he allegedly was beaten on a bus as part of a Florida A&M University band hazing ritual, will be suing Fabulous Coach Lines, based in Branford, Florida, attorney Chris Chestnut said Tuesday.

The bus may have been running at the time Champion was beaten, attorney Chris Chestnut said, and the bus driver might not have been aboard. The family is suing Fabulous Coach Lines, based in Branford, Florida, he said.

Champion, 26, collapsed in Orlando on a bus carrying members of FAMU’s Marching 100 band after a November football game that included a halftime performance by the group. Chestnut has charged that Champion died after receiving “some dramatic blows, perhaps (having an) elevated heart rate” tied to “a hazing ritual” that took place on the bus.

Let’s not pussy-foot around the savagery of this — it was labeled a homicide by the coroner. Champion received multiple blunt trauma blows to his body that included “extensive contusions of his chest, arms, shoulder and back,” as well as “evidence of crushing of areas of subcutaneous fat.”

I’ve never belonged to a sorority or any of these “selective societies,” but I cannot for the life of me see how these need to exist in this day and age if “the price of admission” includes being degraded or participating in rituals that are violent opportunities to get sent to the ER. There’s no excuse for beatings, let alone homicidal behavior. A report by CBS News:

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The National Black Justice Coalition responds:

On November 19, 2011 Florida A&M University student Robert Champion Jr. was found unresponsive aboard a band bus after the school’s biggest game of the year. Police ruled the death a homicide from hazing; furthermore, the parents of Mr. Champion, a 26-year-old drum major in the university’s famed marching band, have recently revealed that Mr. Champion was gay. The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), the nation’s largest Black LGBT civil rights organization, is urging the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service (CRS) and Civil Rights Division, in addition to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, to launch an immediate investigation into Mr. Champion’s death as a potential anti-gay hate crime.

The loss of Mr. Champion is an unfortunate reminder of the need for proactive measures that foster inclusive environments for all students, regardless of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity, and that address the severe issue of hazing at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the country—Florida A&M being one of the nation’s oldest and largest HBCUs.

At NBJC we have always understood the need to create safe and nurturing spaces for our young people to thrive, which is why we launched an initiative seeking policy changes within the U.S. Department of Education’s White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities to promote the development and delivery of culturally competent administrative, faculty, student and staff support services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The tragic loss of Mr. Champion is a clarion call that those policies and these conversations within the Black community are needed now more than ever. We offer our deepest condolences and support to Robert Champion Jr.’s parents and family.

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.

- Sharon Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, National Black Justice Coalition