Hazing or hate crime…?

January 27, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Robert Champion, Jr.’s murder may never be solved. Those who struck the fatal blows may never disclose whether they used the guise of hazing as an accidental homicide to cover up an intended hate crime.

Champion was an unusual student to be at one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). He was openly gay, and a drum major slated to be the head drum major next school year. At HBCU, drum majors are usually heterosexual macho brothers equivalent to captains of football teams.

On November 19, 2011, Champion, a music major from Atlanta, was one of six drum majors of the famous Florida A&M University (FAMU) Marching “100” band who traveled to Orlando for the annual Florida Classic football game between FAMU and Bethune-Cookman University.

At the end of the game that evening, Champion was found dead aboard a band bus resulting from blunt trauma suffered from flogging. Thirteen band members, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, each independently stated to police that Champion was forced onto a band bus with a reputation for hazing.

Law enforcement and the medical examiner ruled that Champion’s death a homicide. But rumors that he was singled out because of his sexual orientation forces HBCU’s to once again examine its institutional heterosexism along with its students’ individual and group activities of anti-gay violence.

Morehouse’s highly publicized 2002 gay-bashing incident has no doubt taught HBCU’s very little in terms of developing safe, nurturing and culturally competent schools with support services for its LGBTQ administration, faculty and student body.

On November 4, 2002, a Morehouse College student sustained a fractured skull from his classmate, sophomore Aaron Price, not surprisingly, the son of an ultra-conservative minister. Price uncontrollably beat his victim on the head with a baseball bat for allegedly looking at him in the shower.

In the 1980s and 1990s it was more dangerous to be openly GBTQ on Morehouse’s campus than it was on the streets in gang-ridden black neighborhoods. And throughout the 1990s Morehouse was listed on the Princeton Review’s top 20 homophobic campuses.  In 2012 HBCU’s as a whole are still slow to take on the public challenge on LGBTQ issues, as some schools were founded with conservative religious affiliations.  But there is another perspective which views the milieu of Black colleges as no different from African American communities in general, and leads some to argue, including members of the FAMU community, that Champion’s death was about his being gay is creating a mountain out of a molehill.

From the Hinterland Gazette: “Um, who cares? Unless his sexual orientation was the reason why he was beaten to death, then it’s quite irrelevant. We had previously heard about him being gay, but we declined on reporting about it because if the police were told this when they characterized his death a result of hazing and didn’t connect the two to say this was a hate crime, then why throw it out there? I’m sure Robert Champion wasn’t the first homosexual to pledge a fraternity.”

No one in the FAMU community wants to broach the topic of Champion’s sexual orientation as a possible motivating factor for the incident. And the push back from students and administration is fierce.

Whereas an institutional shift at FAMU needs to take place, embracing an inclusive acceptance of its students’ various sexual orientations and gender identities, FAMU will work indefatigably to ward off lawsuits. (The Champions cannot sue FAMU for six months because of the state institution is protected under a sovereign immunity.)

In an anemic attempt to exonerate FAMU band director, Dr. Julian White, of any culpability concerning Champion’s death, Chuck Hobbs, his attorney, released a statement that reveals both ignorance about anti-gay violence as well as no desire to change the culture that brought about Champion’s murder.

“Assuming that the assertions of the Champion family and their attorney Chris Chestnut are true, then 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. As such, the efforts Dr. White expended to root out and report hazing could not have predicted or prevented such deliberate barbarity.”

We may never know if Champion’s beat down from “hazing” was an accidental homicide or an intended hate crime.

But these are the facts we know presently:

Champion was forced onto a band bus with a reputation for hazing; he was a vocal opponent against hazing, a band disciplinarian, slated to be head drum major, and he had an “alternative lifestyle.” Everyone in the FAMU community is willing to talk about all these issues except about him being gay.

Rev. Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker, and theologian.  She  has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)

MLK Day Reflections for LGBTQ Justice in the Black Church

January 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

I am proud to count myself among the many people working for social justice today who stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Too many people think King’s statements regarding justice are only about race and the African-American community – thus excluding the LGBTQ community.
But King said that, “The revolution for human rights is opening up unhealthy areas in American life and permitting a new and wholesome healing to take place. Eventually the civil rights movement will have contributed infinitely more to the nation than the eradication of racial justice.”

Members of King’s family also embrace his words, extending them to the LGBTQ community.

For example, in 1998, Coretta Scott King addressed the LGBT group Lambda Legal in Chicago. In her speech, she said queer rights and civil rights were the same. “I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King’s dream to make room at the table of brother and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”

Like her parent’s faith, the King’s eldest daughter’s, Yolanda, faith in the civil rights movement drove her passion for LGBTQ justice.  “If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you do not have the same rights as other Americans,” she said at Chicago’s Out & Equal Workplace Summit in 2006. “You cannot marry, … you still face discrimination in the workplace, and in our armed forces. For a nation that prides itself on liberty, justice and equality for all, this is totally unacceptable.”

However, I must say, as an African American minister I have learned having pastored churches, and having worked alongside black ministers and their parishioners, that who we shout out and pray to on Sunday as an oppressed people, does not exclude or have any relations to who we damn, discard and demonize; thus being an oppressor to people marginalized and disenfranchised like ourselves. The Black Church is an unabashed and unapologetic oppressor to its LGBTQ community and consequently, a hindrance in progressive movements toward LGBTQ civil rights in this country.

While King would undoubtedly shake his head in disbelief concerning his brethren he would however applaud the stance the NAACP took on marriage equality.

In quelling the tension between black civil right activists and ministers of the 1960’s who still vociferously state that marriage equality for LGBTQ Americans is not a civil right, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., marked the 40th anniversary of  “Loving v. Virginia,” that’s when the U. S. Supreme Court in 1967 struck down this country’s  anti-miscegenation laws as unconstitutional, by stating the following concerning same-sex marriage:  “It is undeniable that the experience of African Americans differs in many important ways from that of gay men and lesbians; among other things, the legacy of slavery and segregation is profound. But differences in historical experiences should not preclude the application of constitutional provisions to gay men and lesbians who are denied the fight to marry the person of their choice.”

But if King was with us today he would be sad with how homophobia continues within the Black Church community, having both a profound impact on the mistreatment of its LGBTQ communities, and its inattentiveness on the AIDS epidemic ravaging the black community.

Religion has become a peculiar institution in the theater of human life. Although its Latin root “religio” means “to bind,” it has served as a legitimate power in binding people’s shared hatred.

But Kings teachings taught me how religion plays a profound role in the work of justice.
A religion that looks at reality from an involved committed stance in light of a faith that does justice sees the face of the damned, the disinherited, the disrespected, and the dispossessed – and that also includes its LGBTQ people.

As a religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against LGBTQ people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the ‘other’ and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion;’ by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.

I miss the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. I miss the sound of his voice, the things he said with his voice. I miss the choir that resounded within him with his voice. In keeping his dream alive we must continue to lift our voices.  We must speak our truth to power. And for those of us who live on the margin we must speak out, because OUR survival as LGBTQ worshippers in our faith communities is predicated on our voices being lifted.
Each year, I mark the MLK holiday by reexamining King’s teachings, remembering that my longing for LGBTQ justice is inextricably tied to my work toward religious tolerance in the Black Church.

And this is why I continue to speak up.

Rev. Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker, and theologian.  She  has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)

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