Leading Gay Activist Murdered in Jamaica
Independent, June 10, 2004
By James Burleigh
The mutilated body of Jamaica’s best known gay rights
activist was found at his home in Kingston yesterday. The island’s sole gay
advocacy group called it a possible hate crime.
Brian Williamson, 59, was found by a friend lying in a
pool of blood with several knife wounds, hours after he was seen meeting two
men at his home, police said.
In a statement, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals
and Gays (J-Flag) mourned Mr Williamson’s death and called for a full
investigation by police. “The condition of his body... and his visibility as
a gay man lead us to suspect this is a hate-related crime,” the group said.
But police were investigating Mr Williamson’s murder as
a robbery, not a hate crime. A spokeswoman said Mr Williamson’s safe was
missing and that his room had been ransacked.
“The evidence here suggests that it seems to have been
just a robbery,” she said.
Police were searching for the two men, who according to
one witness, had asked for money when Mr Williamson met them at the door.
Mr Williamson was a founding member of J-Flag, which
provides counselling to gays and lesbians who had suffered physical abuse and
harassment, a common occurrence on an island where homophobia is widespread.
It was started in 1998 in a failed attempt to pressure
the government to overturn Jamaica’s 140-year-old anti-sodomy law, which
prohibits sexual acts between men, but not women.
Mr Williamson was among the first Jamaicans to speak out
against discrimination against gays and HIV/Aids victims, regularly giving
television and radio interviews without using a pseudonym or trying to mask
“He was so courageous,” J-Flag volunteer Tony Hron
said. “He never stopped to think, ‘oh, I might get in trouble for this,’
so in that sense he was very selfless.”
Nevertheless, reported attacks and harassment against
gays persist in Jamaica, particularly in Kingston’s inner-city. At least 30
gay men are believed to have been murdered since 1997, according to published
Homophobia is all but sanctioned by society with the
slang phrases “batty boy” or “chi chi man” in common usage. Popular
“dancehall” songs often advocate violence against gays. In the early
1990s, Buju Banton had a hit with “Boom Bye Bye”, which included the
lyric: “Batty boy get up and run ah gunshot in ah head man”. More recently
the band TOK topped the charts with “Chi Chi Man”—in which the chorus
advocates burning gay men.
In 1997, when prison authorities attempted to distribute
condoms to inmates at Kingston’s main prison, it led to riots in which 16
allegedly gay men were murdered and 40 more injured.
In recent years, dozens of gay men and women have fled
the island for Britain, Canada and the United States to avoid persecution,
according to J-Flag, whose website contains the notice: “Due to the
potential for violent retribution, we cannot publish the exact location of our
In a statement last week, Amnesty International urged the
Jamaican Prime Minister P J Patterson to publicly denounce violence against
gays and repeal the anti-sodomy law. Mr Patterson has said that he will not
press to change the law.
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