Almost two months after the beating death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion, his parents have revealed that he was gay. And while they say that they do not believe that this played a significant role in the attack, authorities still recognize that there are many questions about why he might have been singled out for violence.
The Champion family’s lawyer, Christopher M. Chestnut, said:
“Robert’s being gay may have been a reason for his hazing, but it wasn’t the main reason.
“This was a hazing crime, not a hate crime.”
That Mr. Champion was gay was “a private thing, not something he advertised publicly,” said his mother, Pam Champion, who believes her son had been targeted as retribution for his well-known stance against hazing, writes Robbie Brown at the New York Times.
The Florida A&M Marching 100 band is well known for its culture of musicians punching, slapping, paddling and forcing one another to perform degrading acts. Last month, a band member left the university after claiming she had been punched so hard during hazing that she was hospitalized with a broken femur, deep bone bruises and blood clots, writes the Associated Press.
And former band director Julian White believes that this might have been an isolated case of homophobia.
He said the bullying “could not have been predicted or prevented.”
Dr. White’s lawyer, Chuck Hobbs, said:
“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.”
The line between hazing and homophobia is often blurry, said Shane L. Windmeyer, the executive director of Campus Pride.
Windmeyer and Campus Pride have long been advocates for gay students on college campuses.
“Hazing often gets taken to a new level when its against someone who is gay,” he said.
“Obviously someone’s own prejudice or fears will motivate them to haze and, in many cases, to take more extreme actions.”
However, Champion’s mother said that her son didn’t want to constantly be identified by his homosexuality.
“Robert was not known or defined by his sexual orientation,” she said.
“He was more known for his stance against hazing.”