The mutilated body of Jamaica's best-known gay rights activist was found Wednesday at his home in what the Caribbean island's sole gay rights group is calling 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 corporal 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
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 repeal Jamaica's 140-year-old sodomy law, which prohibits sexual acts between men but not women. Similar 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 people with HIV/AIDS, 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 to 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 barring gays from the Boy Scouts. The human rights group Amnesty International has expressed concern, saying that in January singers at a concert before an audience of 30,000 called for violence against gay men, telling the audience to "kill them." In recent years, dozens of gay men and women have fled the island for the United Kingdom, 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 sodomy law. Patterson has said he will not press to change the law.