His body was found in his locked in his service quarters in Ho Man Tin. He had four bullet holes around his heart and one in his abdomen. There was a note on the table, but the back story and the circumstances made it all suspicious. John MacLennan, 29 years old on his death, was told earlier in the day he was going to be arrested because he had slept with men. He was bisexual. Before 1991 this was a crime.
His suspicious death led to an inquest. Those findings led to the partial decriminalization of homosexual acts 11 years later in 1991. It is one of the most important stories in the LGBTI history of Hong Kong, but only now we are beginning to understand it fully with the help of Nigel Collet’s book A Death In Hong Kong. He is also on the Board of the Pink Alliance.
“He killed himself, it seems, because the prejudices in society boxed him into a corner of being outed, ruined and, as he thought, shamed, or taking the only available alternative, which was death,” said Collet to Dim Sum Magazine “The law may have changed, but Hong Kong’s conservative elements continue to enforce their prejudices on their fellow citizens, for many of whom there remains the choice of either the shame of outing and the loss of job and family, or conformity and hiding in the closet.”
Hong Kong in the 70’s and 80’s was a different place with ramped corruption, and all homosexual acts were illegal with a maximum life sentence. It made it easy to blackmail another. A Special Investigations Unit within the police force was formed looking into gays in the force and trying to root them out. It was the two head inspectors of the SIU who smashed through the double-locked door on the morning of January 15, 1980 and found MacLennan’s lifeless body.
Collet hopes to set the record straight with his very detailed and well-researched book helps to explain the circumstances around MacLennan’s death involving some of the highest levels of the Hong Kong legal profession of the time. It also looks at the $16 million inquiry, the largest in Hong Kong’s history, which eventually lead to the decriminalization of homosexual acts.
The hope is to learn the lessons of this tragic death simply because of his sexual orientation and how we must not allow this to happen again.