Leading gay rights activist found murdered in Jamaica

Stevenson Jacobs | June 10, 2004

KINGSTON, Jamaica — The mutilated body of Jamaica's best known gay rights activist was found Wednesday at his home in what the Caribbean island's sole homosexual advocacy group called a possible hate crime.

A friend discovered Brian Williamson, 59, lying in a pool of blood with several chop wounds, hours after he was seen meeting with two men at his Kingston home, police Cpl. Dahlia Garrick said.

Williamson was a founding member of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, or J-FLAG, the country's only gay rights group. Among other work, the group provided counseling to gays and lesbians who had suffered physical abuse and harassment, a common occurrence on an island where homophobia is widespread.

In a statement, J-FLAG mourned 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.

Police, however, were investigating Williamson's murder as a robbery, not a hate crime, Garrick said, adding that a safe belonging to Williamson was missing and that his room had been ransacked.

"The evidence here suggests that it seems to have been just a robbery," Garrick said.

She said police were searching for the two men, who according to one witness had asked for money when Williamson met them at the door.

Williamson helped found J-FLAG in 1998 in a failed attempt to pressure the government to overturn Jamaica's 140-year-old anti-sodomy law that prohibits sexual acts between men, but not women. Similar anti-sodomy laws are on the books in the Caribbean countries of Barbados, Trinidad and the Bahamas.

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 masking his identity. He was also known for providing safe meeting spaces for gays and lesbians.

"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."

Hron said Williamson had not reported receiving any threats.

"He would always say, 'you know, I've lived here for years and I've never had a problem so I don't feel targeted," Hron said.

Nevertheless, reported attacks and harassment against gays persist in Jamaica, particularly in Kingston's gritty inner-city.

At least 30 gay men are believed have been murdered since 1997, according to published reports.

Popular "dancehall" songs often advocate violence against gays, and Jamaican Governor General Sir Howard Cooke has suggested banning homosexuals from the Boy Scouts in the country of 2.6 million.

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 Web site 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 Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson to publicly denounce violence against gays and repeal the anti-sodomy law.

Patterson has said he will not press to change the law. – Sapa-AP

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Jamaican star cancels London gig amid gay rights protest [08/12/2003]



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