A recent hazing-related death at Florida A&M University has raised questions about both ongoing problems of hazing at the university and whether sexual orientation played a role in this particular incident.
On November 19th, as detailed by CNN, after the Florida A&M University football team lost its annual game against Bethune-Cookman University, 26-year-old FAMU drum major Robert Champion Jr. boarded a darkened bus running in his hotel parking lot. Inside the bus an estimated 30 fellow members of FAMU's Marching 100 marching band waited to rain blows upon him as he ran from one end of the bus to the other--an unsanctioned band initiation ritual known as "Crossing Bus C."
Soon after the ritual, Champion complained of thirst, weakness and blurry vision--he eventually collapsed. Though someone tried to revive him with cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Champion was already in shock from extensive internal bleeding in his back, shoulder and torso and had a temperature of 102.
He vomited during the CPR and the resuscitation even forced some vomit back into his lungs. Within an hour, as CBS News reported, Champion was dead.
Champion's parents think that the band's hazers singled their son out for particularly brutal abuse because he openly opposed the band's tradition of hazing; accordingly, Champion's father questions why his son participated in the ritual to begin with. His parents have also confirmed the recent revelation that Champion was gay, but do not consider it the primary motivator behind his murder.
Champion family lawyer attorney Chris Chestnut said, "This is not a hate crime. This is a hazing crime," and mentioned the school band's history of hazing, including two student hospitalizations after severe paddlings and three band members who faced charges this last December for breaking the femur of a female freshman.
Nevertheless, The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Central Florida, the National Black Justice Coalition and Youth Pride Services all have called for a "complete and thorough investigation" into Champion's death. Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said:
"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."
Randy Stephens, executive director of the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida, added:
"Even if [Champion's] sexual orientation was not the sole factor in the hazing incident, the fact that it was even a partial factor makes this a hate crime and we fully expect the State Attorney to treat it as such."
Though legal restrictions require the Champions to wait six months before filing a lawsuit against the university, they have decided to sue the bus company in hopes of quickly securing documents and testimony regarding their son's death. The Champions contend that Fabulous Coach Lines negligently left their bus open, running and unstaffed in the band's hotel parking lot, allowing band members to reboard the bus and conduct their lethal hazing.
But Ray Land, president of Fabulous Coach Lines, says that the bus drivers were helping other students unload at the time of the hazing, that the drivers didn't notice any commotion during the time of the hazing and that the bus company is primarily responsible for transportation, not for crimes that may occur on board their vehicles.
The school has placed band director Julian White on administrative leave, but they have ignored Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R)'s call to suspend the university president. They will not expel any students until the Orange County Sheriff's Office and university both finish their investigations. Meanwhile, the University's board of trustees responded to the incident by approving a new three-part anti-hazing plan meant to forestall any future extra-curricular violence.