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James Williams, American Gay Activist Working in India, Dies of COVID

James Williams

James Williams, an American writer and gay activist who was seeking to improve LGBTQ+ representation in media in India, has died of COVID-19.

Williams, 35, died Thursday in a hospital near Delhi, The New York Times reports. He had tested positive for the virus four days earlier.

The Alabama-born Williams became a personal assistant to writer Daphne Merkin after he graduated from Columbia University in 2008, and he traveled around the world with her. His love of travel endured, and on a vacation in India in 2017, he met Ayush Thakur. Williams moved to India to live with Thakur, and the two men became engaged. They were trying to secure a visa for Thakur so they could be married in the U.S.

They hoped to eventually work in entertainment in Los Angeles, but while in India, Williams focused on the media landscape there. He saw that anti-LGBTQ+ stigma was still common in the nation, even after the decriminalization of same-sex relations in 2018. He came up with the idea of television shows on the model of Will & Grace, as he thought introducing likable gay characters to audiences would be a counter to bigotry. He began pitching shows to producers, but last year the pandemic put a stop to those efforts.

Williams “really believed in the power of the media to change the way people thought about certain disfavored populations,” his brother, John, told the Times.

Laura Kleinbaum, a friend who attended Columbia with James Williams, recalled him as a talented writer with an excellent sense of humor. “He was a campus character, a big, tall, funny guy who always had a good story to tell,” she told the paper.

India has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases recently, with many hospitals unable to accommodate patients; some people have died while in line awaiting admission. Williams managed to secure a hospital bed, but it could not save his life.

James and John’s mother, Kay Williams, died in a car accident in 1992, and their father, Kenneth Williams, died by suicide three years later. The brothers then went to live with an aunt and uncle, Sharon and Bill Alexander, in upstate New York. James is survived by the Alexanders and their children, Christie, Jessica, and Doug, in addition to his brother and Thakur.

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