Could Florida A & M University student Robert Champion Jr. have been beaten to death because he was gay? The National Black Justice Coalition, the nation’s largest Black LGBT civil rights organization, says it’s possible, and because of it they are urging the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an immediate investigation into Champion’s death as a potential anti-gay hate crime.
“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,” said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. “The civil rights community can no longer stand on the sidelines while our sons and daughters continue to suffer in silence."
On November 19, 2011 Champion was found unresponsive aboard a band bus after the school’s biggest game of the year. Police ruled the death a homicide from hazing, but recently Champion’s parents revealed that the 26-year-old drum major was gay, a revelation that has the coalition thinking that his death was more than an initiation ritual.
“The loss of Mr. Champion is an unfortunate reminder of the need for proactive measures that foster inclusive environments for all students … and that address the severe issue of hazing at HBCUs across the country,” Lettman-Hicks said.
It’s not a secret that being a LGBT in the African-American community is difficult, however. David Hannah, Senior Media Field Strategist of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, tells BET.com that in the African-American community, coming out is extremely different because Black men are expected to be the strong male figure. If someone is gay, there is an inherent belief that he cannot be that figure and that he is less of a man.
Although Champion’s parents, who recently announced that they will sue the company that owns the bus where the hazing took place, discount homophobia as a major motive in their son’s hazing, the National Black Justice Coalition is demanding a fair and thorough investigation.
“Be it hazing or hate crime, justice must be served,” Lettman-Hicks said.
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(Photo: AP Photo/David Goldman)