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Gay in Jamaica

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Larry Chang, who helped found J-FLAG, left the island to seek political asylum in the United States. He says Williamson was so committed to helping gay Jamaicans that he gave up his easy existence abroad to jump back into "the belly of the beast." Chang, who lives in Brooklyn, didn't hear from Williamson for months. "I wonder if this was silent reproach that I had not followed his example to return and rejoin the struggle," he says. "But if I had remained or returned to Jamaica, his fate would have been mine also."

Williamson was generous with money too, offering handouts and odd jobs to acquaintances. Says Chang: "His color, class, affluence, accessibility... made him an easy target. With his Catholic upbringing, his endless compassion, patience, and humility... he put himself at risk for martyrdom."

In the weeks before his murder, Williamson befriended a closeted gay man from New Kingston, according to J-FLAG members. He gave the man money and even purchased stacks of newspapers for him to sell on street corners. On June 11, two days after the murder, police arrested the paper vendor. Because the safe and other items were missing, Kingston police are investigating the crime as a robbery.

J-FLAG members have a short video of the scene outside Williamson's house on Haughton Street that was taken soon after the murder. The roof of a six-story building across the street was lined with spectators that morning, as was the street. Loud laughter makes up the soundtrack. "It was like a party to them," says Jason Byles (not his real name), who publishes a gay newsletter in Kingston. "They were laughing and making jokes, saying things like 'This is long overdue' and things like 'Batty man fi dead!' ['Faggots should die!']"

According to J-FLAG members, cops overlooked crucial evidence at Williamson's home. "I'm told 12 officers went to the crime scene," says Mark Clifford, program director at J-FLAG. "In the evening, some of Brian's close friends went back to help clean up the mess and found two more murder weapons laying in the blood -- an ice pick and a ratchet knife. That says something about the forensic investigations.

"Especially if it's a gay-on-gay murder, the police really don't investigate," Clifford continues. "If gay people are abused and take it to the police, it's very common for police to throw the people out of the station and become abusive themselves."

On June 13, the Sunday Gleaner carried the headline "OUTRAGE!" over a story about British concern over Williamson's killing. J-FLAG and Amnesty International called for an inquiry into the possibility that the murder was a hate crime. Regardless of whether that description fits, Williamson's death and the reaction to it are clearly watershed events -- a turning point in the history of Jamaica's gay minority.

The thought that Williamson may have been killed by someone within the tight-knit group hit the gay community hard. "No one I know is willing to step forward and take over that role now, so it is a big loss for advocacy in Jamaica," explains Tony Hron, who headed J-FLAG for three years, until January, and still volunteers with the group.

Hron, Byles' partner for the past two years, lives about a mile from Williamson's property; the two rent a small home together. Hron, a Caucasian from Nebraska, came to Kingston in 2000 on a Peace Corps assignment and stayed to help the beleaguered gay population. At five feet seven, Hron is dwarfed by his partner's thin, six-foot-six frame. Byles is gangly and coltish, with the physical poise and physique of Grace Jones. A soft, Michael Jackson whisper emerges when he speaks.

In his flat, Midwestern voice, Hron says of his experience in Jamaica: "I've never felt unsafe in this area. Only once have I heard a comment in the four years I've been down here." But local friends of his haven't been as fortunate. "I know a gay man who was attacked at a shopping mall -- within five minutes of this house. He and another friend were viewed as being gay, as the other friend was a little bit effeminate. They were punched and kicked and had to run into a store to get away from the attackers."

Byles looks longingly at a stack of glossy gay magazines friends have brought down from Wilton Manors. Poring through the pages of beefcake, he recalls his one visit to South Florida, where for the first time, he was able to show the world his true self. How did it feel?

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton

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