THIS MUCH is true: the brave, loving gay man who was murdered in Kingston last week will not be forgotten. His name was Brian R.B. Williamson. None of us who are gay, lesbian or bisexual will forget him, and neither will many others.
He was a founding member of J-FLAG. I remember him from that time. That was where I first met him where I first had the privilege of getting to know him. We all were meeting in great trust, scarcely knowing at that time, in the latter months of 1998, how daunting and ultimately vital our mission would be. But in 2004, six years later, J-FLAG still exists proof of the importance and utter correctness of our work. Jamaica’s viciousness and hatred, no matter how brutal, could not destroy us then, and will not destroy us now.
I remember Brian as a laughing man: a man with ‘a head of silver coins’,” as I described his head of curly silver-gray hair. He loved laughing and laughter. Though it is often said of the dead even when untrue, he truly did love life, and exemplified that love in his formidable bravery where sexuality matters were concerned. He was not afraid to open, and operate from the late 1990s until only a few years ago, the gay and lesbian dance club Entourage, right in his home at 3A Haughton Avenue.
A SAFE PLACE
Entourage, a place where so many of us gays, lesbians, and bisexuals could go and dance, laugh, flirt, party, and hang out with friends and loved ones a place where we could breathe freely and openly, delivered for a few hours from Jamaica’s otherwise repressive, hateful anti-gay environment. At Entourage and in other places, Brian was not afraid to challenge the police, fiercely, when they attempted to harass him. He was not afraid to represent J-FLAG on the radio, using his own name, and to appear on television, representing the organisation, showing his face. He did it all with great humour and generosity, and lived, until a few weeks ago, to tell about it. In that regard, he was truly an example to all of us who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual an example of just what bravery and risk can accomplish.
It remains to be seen whether Brian was murdered specifically because he was gay, although given the extremely violent nature of the crime and his being so widely known as an outspoken gay man, one would be a bit naive not to wonder. These are hard times for all Jamaicans living on the island, but they’re especially hard for gay men, and for men who have sexual/romantic involvements with other men, and with women, and don’t call themselves ‘gay’.
SHROUD OF FEAR
Many men who desire other men in Jamaica continue to live with an enormous amount of anxiety, shame and fear. Such is also the case for women who love other women. Those of us who are men, particularly after an incident such as which took Brian’s life, return to that gnawing fear: will someone strike us down anytime soon because we are ‘b-men’? How will it happen? With fire, machetes, pickaxes, hammers, guns, knives or simple strangling? Or will it be ‘just’ a beating? Or a good old-fashioned stoning? Will our father do it to us, or a neighbour? A boyfriend of ours, or a co-worker?
Will everyone in our community turn on us? Will it happen in the cool, quieter hours of the night, or beneath the sun’s blazing afternoon? Will people laugh after our death, as they did after Brian’s or will some cry for us, as many did for Brian? Will people tell each other after our murder that we ‘deserved’ it, or were ‘asking for’ it? Will people in our families be so ashamed of us, and so embarrassed, that they’ll refuse to speak about us to anyone, especially when it comes to the men we loved? Will self-hating gay men say vicious things about us – that we were nothing more than a ‘sketel’, nothing more than a ‘butu’, so what could we expect?
We all have faced discrimination and bigotry from friends, family members, church members, and others; yet many of us somehow have managed to survive that bigotry, and even triumph. In that regard, we, male and female homosexuals, are truly testaments to survival and the human spirit. Jamaica would be much poorer without our talent, hard work, skills, and intelligence, and Jamaica knows it. Jamaica will be much poorer without the light of Brian Williamson, but the gay/lesbian community, and J-FLAG, will continue, and prevail, as Brian himself would have wanted us to.
EQUAL TO NAZI TYRANNY
Make no mistake years from now, the world will look at Jamaica the way we do at Nazis today. Jamaica’s hatred of homosexuals is the equal of Nazis’ hatred of Jews. It is the equal of racist whites’ hatred of blacks, is the equal of all hatred everywhere just as ugly, just as destructive and self-destructive, just as ignorant and narrow. Just as evil.
We are Nazis toward lesbians and gay men, but Hitler’s fury didn’t wipe out all the Jews, and Jamaica’s rage won’t kill all of us – it won’t even kill those of us who hate ourselves so much because Jamaica has taught us to hate ourselves and other gay people.
In our private spaces we still love and make love to each other, we still tell jokes and drink, play cards and watch T.V, nyam our curry goat and brown stew chicken, go on bad and tek bad tings mek laugh. We still dream of love, like everyone else, and, when necessary, we take care of each other. If anything, Brian’s death should teach us all to do all these things even better.
But it should teach us something else, even more important: it should teach us that we, and no one else, will have to make the kind of world we want our children to live in. If one of our children turns out to be gay and I mean the children of any Jamaican, any person, heterosexual or homosexual, since we, too, produce children are we prepared to send them out into a world that might chop them up, burn them, dash acid on them, or burn down their house? Or stone them? Or cause them to flee Jamaica in fear? Or cause them to grow up lying about themselves, lying to their parents, to spouses, children, friends, family to everyone?
What are we all doing right now, nearly one week after a brave man’s death, to protect our children from that world? From this world?
Brian featured on the bottom of his outgoing e-mails a quote from Gandhi: “We must become the change we wish to see in the world.” It’s useful, but to achieve what it says requires a tremendous amount of human bravery: brave heart, brave mind, brave soul, and the courage to expand the mind beyond the prejudices that make us happy and comfortable. Are we prepared to try and live this way, if only to keep other people from being killed as Brian was killed, and to save ourselves from such a death as well?
Light a candle, then, for this man who was loved. Light many candles, and remember his name. Remember his laughter.
Remember how much he loved other men, and how very much he wanted them to love him in return. Remember how much he loved his cat Jonathan and his dog Tessa – poor Tessa, who was there, at home, on the morning of his death.
Remember how Brian loved his garden, especially the trailing yellow allamanda flowers on his front lawn’s overhead trellis. Say a prayer for him, and say another for those terrible lost people who killed him.
Remember how much power, love, and life he brought us in Jamaica. Remember, how much braver he made so many of us. Remember how he expanded our entire country. Remember, and know that he will not be forgotten.