Orlando, Fla. —
The family of Robert Champion, Jr., the Florida A&M (FAMU) drum major who died after being beaten in a hazing ritual, said they've learned he was gay -- but do not believe the beating death was a hate crime.
Champion died on Nov. 19 after being attacked in a ritual band members called "Crossing Bus C," in which the victim was attacked as he walked to the back of a bus during a trip to a performance.
The family's attorney, Christopher Chestnut, told the FAMUan that his family didn't know he was gay until they started talking with bandmates. But, they want to make sure the crime is not shoved into the category of "hate crime."
"FAMU has a 50-year history of hazing in the band," Chestnut told the FAMUan. "Robert's alternative lifestyle did not define him. He was defined by the fact that he followed the rules and was against hazing."
However, the attorney for band director Julian White is already trying to seize on the issue -- and use it to minimize White's responsibility.
"Assuming that the assertions of the Champion family and their attorney Christopher Chestnut are true, then it is entirely possible that his 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" Chuck Hobbs said. "As such, the efforts of Dr. White expended to root out and report hazing could not have predicted or prevented such deliberate barbarity."
The family is suing the school, the band director, and the bus company.