Walter Lee Williams (born 3 November 1948) is a former professor of anthropology, history, and gender studies at the University of Southern California. He is one of the pioneers in the field of queer studies, with a long background in human rights activism.
In 2013, after his retirement, he was arrested and imprisoned for five years on the charge of "illicit conduct in foreign places.", in association with sexual acts with two underage boys in the Philippines and the possession of erotic paraphernalias related to child pornography.
Williams was apprehended in a public park in Playa del Carmen, Mexico in 2013 and extradited back to Los Angeles, United States.
As a teenager in Atlanta in the 1960s, Williams was inspired by Martin Luther King to get involved in the civil rights movement. In 1978 he became a gay rights activist, protesting against Anita Bryant’s Save Our Children campaign.
Williams earned an undergraduate degree in History and Anthropology from Georgia State University in 1970, and continued to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he earned a Master's in History in 1972, and a Ph.D. in History and Anthropology, in 1974. His doctoral thesis was Black American Attitudes Toward Africa: The Missionary Movement, 1877—1900, and would form the basis of his first book.
In 1979, while Williams was an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati, he and Gregory Sprague founded the Committee on Lesbian and Gay History, an affiliate of the American Historical Association.
In his fourth book, The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture, in 1986, Williams came out as gay. This book was the first complete study of the berdache, androgynous and gender-variant people among the American Indians. The book won the 1987 Gay Book of the Year Award from the American Library Association, the 1986 Ruth Benedict Award from the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists, and the Award for Outstanding Scholarship from the American Foundation for Gender and Genital Medicine and Science presented at the 1987 World Congress for Sexology.
From July 1987-July 1988 Williams was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to lecture in American History at Gadjah Mada University, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. While there, Williams collected autobiographical interviews, 27 of which were published as Javanese Lives: Women and Men in Modern Indonesian Society in 1991.
He has published ten books and taught American Indian Studies. He has also been recognized for his work with the gay and lesbian community. An ethnographer, Williams has also traveled throughout North America from Alaska to Yucatan to study Native American tribes. His other areas of expertise include cultures of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, based on his years of field research in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, the Philippines and Polynesia."
In 1994-1995, Williams, with Jim Kepner, oversaw the merger of the International Gay and Lesbian Archives and the ONE, Inc. library holdings to form the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at USC, the largest repository of LGBT materials in the world.
In 1986, Williams became a registered member of Soka Gakkai International. In 27 February 1996, he provided a series of lectures on Gay Marriage at Soka University. Ultimately, on 24 March 2006, Williams was awarded the Gandhi, King, Ikeda Award from Morehouse College, for his work during the civil rights and peace movements and in support of LGBT rights.
Williams taught anthropology, gender studies and history at the University of Southern California until his retirement in 2011. He lived in Mexico on a retirement visa from 2011 to 2013, where he continued his earlier research among the Mayan Indians.
On 30 April 2013, a federal arrest warrant was issued for Williams in the United States District Court for the Central District of California for sexual exploitation of children, travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, and engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places. Williams was accused of engaging in sexual acts with two underage boys in the Philippines via webcam. At the time of his warrant, the reward value for his arrest was up to $100,000 USD.
On 17 June 2013, he was placed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. Williams was the 500th addition to the list. He was arrested in a public park in Playa del Carmen, Mexico one day after he was put on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list and was extradited to Los Angeles, California.
The FBI, with reasonable suspicion, searched Williams's personal computer, finding photographs of unclothed teenage boys. In 2014, he pleaded guilty to illicit sexual contact with boys aged 14 to 16 in the Philippines and was sentenced to five years in prison.