Black History Month Time Capsule 3: Brian Williamson – a true hero and inspiration
Date posted: 29 October 2021
To mark Black History Month some of our lawyers have written letters to future lawyers spotlighting the work of one of their inspirations from the black legal or activist community. The letters will be put into a Time Capsule and buried in our garden for future generations of Wilson’s lawyers to dig up and read one day
Here is the third from our Matthew Davies, our Managing Partner and a lawyer in the Immigration Team.
Dear Future Lawyer
When I was a younger lawyer I represented a black gay man from Jamaica who was claiming asylum in the UK.
In Jamaica he had been discriminated against, beaten up, and had his life threatened – all for being gay, and just wanting to be the person he was born to be.
He could not come out to his family in Jamaica, but there was a club that gay people used to go to called Entourage. It was a safe space but gay people always risked being beaten up when they left the club. My client was beaten badly one night after leaving.
He managed to get a visa for the UK and having received threats to his life for being gay in Jamaica he claimed asylum.
The Home Office did not believe that he was gay or his account of being beaten up outside the club.
I was representing him at his appeal and preparing for it with him. He mentioned that the owner of the Entourage club happened to be in the UK on holiday at the time. I asked him to ask the club owner if he would be willing to give evidence and come and meet me in our office so I could take a statement. He said he would try and persuade him to.
I remember it to this day when this smiling, bubbly man walked into my office and sat down and told me all about the life of gay people in Jamaica and how hard it was for many. He also had a wicked laugh and sense of humour. He put my young client at ease. He told me that although he did not know my client well the young man I was representing had indeed been to his club regularly and had been beaten within an inch of his life when he left the club one night.
I remember asking a question; if it was so bad for gay people in Jamaica how come he was able to run a club for gay people and how come he had never been beaten up within an inch of his life. I remember him replying that unlike my client who was young, darker skinned than he, and from a poor background, he was older, light skinned and middle class – he was seen differently by the police and potential persecutors – and he was able to afford a house with high walls and security.
I took a long and detailed statement from him and the man kindly agreed to give up some time during his holiday to come to the hearing and give evidence. He was very impressive as a witness and his evidence was believed and my client was found to be gay and given protection in the UK as a refugee. My client’s life was changed due to the kindness of this man.
I always remember that act of kindness and I remembered his name. His name was Brian Williamson.
Some years later, in 2004, I was reading in the gay press about a shocking and brutal murder in Jamaica of a man described as a gay rights activist. Men had broken into his home and killed him. The man’s name was Brian Williamson. I looked at the photo – and yes, it was the same Brian who had been kind to my client.
I was shocked by his death. I started to research more about Brian and discovered that the quiet, funny, unassuming man who had been sitting in my office had been a founder member of J-Flag, the campaign for gay rights in Jamaica. He had housed homeless LGBT activists. He had come out openly on Jamaican TV. He had campaigned to end the laws that criminalise same-sex relationships in Jamaica (which are still on the statute book to this day).
Little did I know when I met him that every day in Jamaica, through his kindness and activism, he had been risking his life. The high walls of his home would not protect him. And his life had now been taken from him in a most brutal murder, thought by many to be motivated by homophobia.
I will always remember Brian. He made a difference to so many people’s lives. And Brian lost his life because of his kindness and belief in what is right. He is a true hero and inspiration for why we need to fight for justice, and for the rights of others who are less fortunate than ourselves. He was an inspiration to me as a young gay activist lawyer.
And the lesson that he taught me, which I want to pass on to you, my future lawyer, is that small acts of kindness can make big differences. And that there are very brave people in the world who put their lives on the line because they believe in justice for all. And there are people who lose their lives in the pursuit of justice and equality. And we need to remember them and be inspired by them when we work for justice as lawyers – when you work for justice, in the future.