MLK Day Reminder

Two major LGBT organizations seek to solve a possible hate crime

Robert Champion (courtesy of GLSEN)

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) reflects on Dr. King’s legacy as the organization continues to demand justice for a young man named Robert Champion, Jr.

If you’ve never heard of Champion, you may know his story.

“Champion, a gay drum major at Florida A&M, died as a result of a hazing ritual aboard a band bus on Nov. 19, 2011,” says NBJC. Last week, the organization launched a petition drive urging the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether his death was a possible hate crime. “Our call to action, just days before King’s birthday, is tragically timely,” says the group in an online post today.

This story – and others like it – is a reminder about the hate that still exists so many years after Dr. King’s own life was taken April 4, 1968. Unfortunately, these crimes still persist.

“Only two months before Champion’s death, Shannon Washington – a lesbian and a basketball standout who had transferred to Florida A&M – was stabbed to death by her girlfriend. Both deaths are unfortunate reminders that we need proactive measures to foster inclusive environments for all students, like NBJC’s initiative that seeks to promote LGBT competency at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs),” says the organization.

“The shape of the world will not permit us the luxury of gradualism and procrastination,” King wrote in 1963 about achieving racial justice. “Not only is it immoral, it will not work.”

NBJC is calling on the LGBT community to take a stand against hate in America. “We must remind ourselves, like King did, why we cannot wait – why the time to have these conversations and the time to act is now,” the organization says.

In memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the group is asking people to sign this petition, and spread the word and urge the Department of Justice to begin an investigation of Robert Champion, Jr.’s death today – as well as crimes against other LGBT people.

Eliza Byard, the executive director of the GLSEN, has also stepped up in time for MLK Day. “Dr. King’s very last sermon, delivered in 1968, was a meditation on the ‘Drum Major Instinct’ – a desire to lead, to be first, to be praised, and to make a mark on the world,” she says. “Dr. King argued that we all have this instinct, which can rightfully be condemned when it leads to destructive, selfish behavior. But it is a natural instinct, Dr. King went on, present in everyone, that can be the source of great change and true greatness when it is harnessed through service and love.”

GLSEN is also seeking answers in Champion’s murder.

“Robert Champion, Jr., was an actual drum major in one of the most celebrated marching bands of the [Historically Black Colleges and Universities],” she explains. “Friends and family say that he was a crusader against the hazing that is such a central and dangerous part of the marching band experience at HBCUs. His own success as a leader within the band was a testament to the possibility that one could rise through the ranks without submitting to the degrading rituals invented by band leaders to test emerging candidates. Champion was, apparently, in line to become head drum major for the Marching 100. And he was gay. Today, a painful set of inquiries seek to determine what role each of these factors played in the intense beating that led to his death.”

Read the complete post from GLSEN here.