Metro Weekly

Gay reporter says CBS told him to ‘butch it up’ before firing him

Don Champion alleges that executives at a CBS New York affiliate targeted him for being "too gay"

don champion, reporter, gay
Don Champion — Photo: Facebook

A former reporter for a CBS affiliate in New York City claims that he was discriminated against, subjected to homophobic abuse, and then subsequently fired for being a gay Black man.

Don Champion, a freelance reporter for WCBS-TV, claimed in a Facebook post that executives targeted him for his sexuality at both the affiliate and his later freelance work for CBS Newspath.

Sharing a photo of him reporting for WCBS, Champion said it made him “feel proud that as a news reporter I got the chance to cover huge stories in NYC — the largest and most dynamic market in the country.”

However, the photo also “brings back horrible memories of being bullied and discriminated against for being a gay Black man,” he wrote.

Champion specifically cited two executives, David Friend and Peter Dunn, in his post. He claimed that, prior to starting as a freelance reporter at WCBS, his agent had warned him to “be careful, you’re gay, Black and a man. David doesn’t like any of those.”

After starting at WCBS, also known as CBS 2 News, Champion said Friend used his freelance status to “bully, intimidate and tear me down,” to the point that he became so stressed that he developed eczema.

Despite impressing other colleagues, including securing a “market exclusive” during his first on-air day,” Champion said nothing he did “would impressive David Friend.”

Friend allegedly complained about Champion’s weight, his “on-air presence,” and his voice. Champion said he asked Friend’s office if he would help fund a voice coach and was told no.

“Trying to do whatever it took to get a contract, I paid for [a coach] on my own,” Champion wrote. “I distinctly remember the voice coach telling me during one session that she was confused about what problem the station had with my voice. Looking back, I now know ‘presence’ and ‘voice’ were code; in Friend and Dunn’s eyes, I was too gay.”

Champion said that Dunn ignored his attempts to talk, and that his working days would fluctuate, even after more than a year with WCBS, “depending on how David felt about me. My life and career were under the control of a bigot.”

He alleged that he was ultimately told by Friend’s office that he wouldn’t be offered any more freelance days, but that was retracted after other executives voiced support for Champion and his work.

However, Champion had started freelancing at CBS News’ satellite news gathering division Newspath, and rejected the offer to continue working with WCBS.

Don Champion
Don Champion, reporting for CBS News 2 — Photo: Facebook

“Before I left, a manager at WCBS even said to me that they hoped I ‘knew the problem [at WCBS] was never you,'” Champion wrote. “Those words have stayed in my head ever since and I know what the manager meant.”

But Champion said that “the discrimination didn’t stop at WCBS.”

“At CBS Newspath, word from a manager of me needing to ‘butch it up’ on-air got to me,” he said. “There was also a complaint about me ‘queening out’ during live shots.”

Champion alleged that, after he raised this with a manager, they “viciously turned against me after being one of my biggest supporters.”

“She had it out for me from that moment on and in July 2017 — few months later — she called my agent and told him she was breaking my contract and letting me go because I ‘wasn’t her style,'” Champion claimed.

Champion called CBS “toxic at the time,” but said he’d been told the network is “a better place to work now.”

“My life was upended and my TV news career ruined — starting with the bigotry of the likes of David Friend and Peter Dunn,” he said, adding, “Looking back, I have regrets. I wish I would’ve sued. I wish I would’ve stood up for myself more, but there’s so much fear involved.”

Champion continued: “Anyone who knows me knows how passionate I was about news and how it was my dream to be a journalist since childhood. A dream and years of hard work stolen from me by blatant bigotry and the sad part is — there are countless other stories.”

Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that “CBS Television Stations President Peter Dunn and a top lieutenant cultivated a hostile work environment that included bullying female managers and blocking efforts to hire and retain Black journalists.”

Both Dunn and the executive remained in their positions despite CBS investigating multiple allegations of serious misconduct.

“CBS is committed to ensuring an inclusive and respectful work environment for all its employees,” CBS said in a statement to the Times. “In response to a CBS investigation in early 2019, senior management at the time addressed the situation with Mr. Dunn, and the company has not received any complaints about his conduct during the period since then.”

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's online editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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