Washington, D.C., January 10, 2012 –
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.