The family of Robert Champion, the young man allegedly beaten to death during a hazing ritual at FAMU, admitted today during a press
conference with their attorney that their son lived “an alternative lifestyle.” This shouldn’t have made a difference in his death, and I pray that it didn’t, but what if it did? What if the blows Champion received were made harder, even more brutal, because he was gay?
This is one of the many problems with these Neanderthal hazing rituals; the criteria for who gets beaten versus who gets pulverized is totally subjective, resting mostly with the testosterone level in the room from one moment to the next. So I shudder to think of what might’ve been the fate of a gay man in a bus full of red-blooded men acting out a savage ritual.
But just because I wasn’t on that bus doesn’t mean that I haven’t witnessed how some straight black men react when in the company of black men who they know are gay. Talk tolerance all you like, but the interaction, especially among younger men who are jockeying for position among other young lions, is frosty at best and openly hostile at worst. I’m certainly not impugning all black men, but I’ve been in the room enough times to hear the chuckles and sneers when a gay guy approaches, so the whole “you’re playing into a stereotype” line won’t work with me. I’m part of the family, in more ways than one.
I’d like to think that maybe Champion had a strong support system at FAMU which included his band members, that insulated him, at least to some degree, against that sort of thing, but that’s difficult for me to imagine considering that his fellow band members were the same folk who allegedly beat him to death (with friends like that…). It is more likely, especially considering that Champion’s sexuality is just now surfacing, that a few people knew for certain that Champion was gay while most others just suspected. Or maybe he hid it well enough that this comes as a surprise to everyone. There’s no way to be sure, but at the press conference, the attorney for the family of Robert Champion said that Champion wasn’t defined by his sexuality. I’m just hoping that turns out to be true. I’m just hoping his sexuality didn’t contribute to his death.
Does all this make homophobia a black thing? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not a strong vein of homophobia within the black community that still exists in a major way. And now’s as good a time as any to deal with it. If we can’t or won’t do it for ourselves, we should do it for Robert Champion. That would be an honorable legacy for him to leave.
Yvette Carnell is a former Capitol Hill and campaign staffer turned writer. She is currently an editor and contributor to Yourblackworld.
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Yvette Carnell: Did Robert Champion’s Sexuality Contribute to His Death?