Last edited: June 10, 2004

Leading Gay Activist Murdered in Jamaica

The 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 his identity.

“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 reports.

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 office.”

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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