Brian Ribton Bernard Williamson, the Jamaican-Canadian gay rebel who was viciously murdered last month in Kingston, Jamaica, was a laughing man with a head of silver coins, as I liked to call his curly grey mane. The activist, who enjoyed Toronto and occasional nights at the Manhattan, knew that Canada provided a far safer environment for a gay man, but he always preferred the energy and excitement of Jamaica. This was true even when he witnessed ugly words, the stabbings and slashings - all realities of a severely homophobic society.
Despite this, he bravely operated the gay and lesbian dance club Entourage in his home at 3A Haughton Avenue, New Kingston. In this sanctuary we all could breathe freely and be delivered, if only for a while, from the hatred outside.
Brian was fearless, an inspiration for all treading ever so carefully in the minefield of Jamaica's sexual politics. At times this meant challenging police when they attempted to harass him. At other times, as one of the founding members of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), he spoke on the radio, using his own name, as he did on television, showing his face.
It remains to be seen whether Brian was murdered because he was queer. Given the extremely violent nature of the crime (repeated stabs to his neck with an ice pick, a machete blow to his forehead) against this widely known and outspoken leader, one would be naive not to wonder. Amnesty International, much criticized recently for its perceived "scolding" on the nation's poor human rights record, has urged Jamaican authorities to ensure that his death is thoroughly and impartially investigated.
Many men who desire other men continue to live with anxiety, shame and fear in that island nation. Some of the "lucky" ones have managed to attain the tenuous status of political refugees - in Canada, the UK and the U.S. among other nations. Those who have chosen or have to remain return to that gnawing fear: will violence strike because we are "battymen" (faggots)? How will it happen? With fire - gasoline tossed over us as we sleep, assisted by a well-tossed lit match? Machetes aimed to rip open our softest parts? Pickaxes, hammers, guns?
Will it be just a beating? Or a good old-fashioned stoning? Will our fathers do it to us, or a neighbour? Another male relative? A boyfriend or a co-worker? Will it happen in the cool, quiet hours of the night, beneath the blazing afternoon sun or just before morning's first shy streaks?
Will people laugh after our deaths, as they did after Brian's? Will some cry for us, as gay rights activists around the world did for Brian? Make no mistake: the future world will rightly view Jamaica's hatred of homosexuals as the equivalent of every other inherited hatred from anti-Semitism to racist whites' hatred of blacks. Meanwhile, in our private spaces, we will continue to love and make love to each other. We will continue to tell jokes and drink, play cards and watch TV, nyam (eat) our curry goat and brown stew chicken, go on bad (behave badly) and tek bad tings mek laugh (indulge in gallows humour).
We will still dream of love, like everyone else - and, when necessary, we will take care of one another. If it teaches us anything, Brian's death should push us all to do these things even better.
Light a candle, then, for this brave man who was loved. Light many candles and remember his name. Imagine his laughter as you envision his head of silver coins. Remember or imagine the shine of his eyeglasses and the shape of his incorrigibly round belly. Remember how much he loved other men, and how very much he wanted them to love him in return.
And know, too, how much he adored his garden, especially the yellow allamanda flowers that brightened his front yard. Say a prayer for him, and try to say another, somehow, for the terribly lost person or persons who killed him. Remember how much power, love and life he brought to his friends, family and communities in Jamaica and Canada. Remember how much braver he made so many of us. Remember the name and the man, Brian Williamson, and know that he will not be forgotten.