AIDS activists sometimes remind others about the men and women who’ve
died fighting the epidemic. Usually, we mean that they devoted
their time and energy, even as they themselves might have dwindled
But “activists who die fighting the epidemic”
has assumed another horrific meaning. At 1 am this past December 1,
World AIDS Day, Steve Harvey, who ran Jamaica’s leading AIDS
organization—Jamaica AIDS Support for Life—was abducted from his home
and murdered, after being identified as gay. The police first dismissed
the crime as a robbery gone awry; the international community is
demanding it be reclassified as a hate crime.
This comes not
long after the founder of Jamaica’s gay rights movement, Brian
Williamson, was stabbed 70 times in June 2004. The police said this
murder, too, was a robbery gone awry.
Same-sex love between
adults in Jamaica is punishable by long prison terms and hard labor.
Indeed, Human Rights Watch has singled out Jamaica for fostering a
climate of violent homophobia: Law enforcement officials not only
ignore but often incite it. Jamaica’s only gay rights organization does
not publicize its location for fear of attack. One of its website’s
primary features gives information on how Jamaica’s gay men and
lesbians can emigrate to other countries.
This reign of
antigay terror has had a disastrous effect on the nation’s HIV
epidemic. Jamaica has one of the highest HIV rates in the Caribbean.
Because HIV is still viewed as a largely gay disease, at-risk men and
women fear even going to clinics to get tested; workers providing
treatment and other services, especially to gay men, have been
assaulted. The day before Harvey’s death, the New York Times ran an
editorial titled “AIDS, and Homophobia, in Jamaica.”
Harvey knew that any openly gay man who dared start a movement of
people living with AIDS was a marked man—yet he embraced that fate
heroically. He will be especially mourned by the most marginalized
Jamaicans—the GLBT individuals, people with HIV/AIDS, sex workers and
prisoners—for whom he fought to give access to HIV/AIDS information and
Jamaica is killing its activists instead of working
for greater understanding and punishing those who commit violent
crimes. Though Steve Harvey is dead, he did not die of AIDS. He was
singled out for murder because he was an activist, spoke the truth, was
gay and because he raised awareness of an HIV/AIDS problem that has
embarrassed the Jamaican government.
Mourn Steve Harvey. But do more than mourn. Honor his work by taking three steps:
and let the Jamaican Ambassador to the U.S., Gordon Shirley, know how
you feel: c/o The Jamaican Embassy, 1520 New Hampshire Avenue NW,
Washington, DC, 20036, or call 202.452.0660.
Jamaica AIDS Support for Life. Without Harvey, it needs financial
support more than ever. Send your check to 4 Upper Musgrave Avenue,
Kingston 10, Jamaica, or at www.jamaicaaids suport.com.
Boycott travel to Jamaica. Maybe a whop in the wallet will compel action to protect GLBT people and people with HIV in Jamaica.
are a movement built on the courage and guts of people like Steve
Harvey. His murder is a shame on Jamaica. But it is a shame on us if we
don’t do something about it.