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Witnesses: FAMU drum major was targeted due to sexuality | Education

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Witnesses: FAMU drum major was targeted due to sexuality

ATLANTA -- Was sexual orientation a factor in the hazing death of a Florida A&M University drum major?

It depends on who you ask.

Nearly two months after his death, the parents of FAMU drum major Robert Champion said Tuesday morning that although their son was gay, that's not why he was targeted.

The Decatur native died November 19 after collapsing on a bus following a band performance. Officials have ruled his death a homicide caused by hazing.

During Tuesday's news conference, attorney Christopher Chestnut said after speaking with more than 15 witnesses, many reported that Champion was subjected to more severe hazing than other students.

Some witnesses said they believed Champion was hazed harder because he was gay.

But Chestnut said, according to other witnesses, Champion was punished because of his own anti-hazing stance, not because of his sexual orientation.

"This is the guy that was talking to people, other students, and telling them they didn't have to [submit to hazing]," Chestnut said. "And they believed him because he was a drum major. He rose to the highest level in the band without going along with it. That threatens the very institution of hazing."

Shortly before the news conference, FAMU band director Julian White released a statement through his attorney, saying because of his sexual orientation, Champion's death was likely a hate crime.

"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," said White's attorney, Chuck Hobbs.

"As such, the efforts Dr. White expended to root out and report hazing could not have predicated or prevented such deliberate barbarity," the statement continued.

Chestnut called the statement "an attempt to exonerate the band administration for their own negligence in Robert's death."

"This is not a hate crime. This is a hazing crime," he said. "FAMU has a 50-year history, a culture of hazing in this band."

Meanwhile, a Georgia lawmaker is working to enact stronger hazing laws statewide. Representative Joe Wilkinson (R-52) introduced a bill that would prevent a student from attending school in Georgia if found guilty of hazing.

The Champions also announced plans to sue FAMU's long-time charter bus company, Fabulous Coach Lines. They allege the company knew, or should have known, that hazing took place on their buses.

The bus company's president was not immediately available for comment.

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