Monday, December 12, 2005

Remembering Steve Harvey in Jamaica, the wrong editorial - and what you can do

A Memorial

Jamaica AIDS Support held a memorial in honor of Lenford "Steve" Harvey, who used to be their Coordinator of Targeted Interventions (more photos here courtesy of Nigel Mathlin, Creative Director of the Granada-based AquaDesign). As Blabbeando has reported over the last couple of weeks, Mr. Harvey was murdered on November 30th, on the eve of World AIDS Day, apparently for being gay.

The Wrong Editorial

On Saturday, The Jamaican Observer continued to play semantics with whether homophobia is truly widespread in Jamaica and whether Jamaican authorities should be taken to task for not investigating attacks against gays. In a lead editorial titled "The Misperceptions of Gay vs. Heterosexual Murders" the paper says, among other things, the following:
...there is a myth, which is gathering steam, most dangerously abroad and perpetrated by skilled propagandists, that somehow the murder of gays, particularly homosexual males, are less likely to be solved than if a straight person is the victim [...] Another myth being parlayed with great political skill, is that every murder of any crime against any homosexual is, first and foremost, a hate crime, perpetrated because of the sexual preference of the victim [...] This newspaper does not dismiss the fact that openly gay men, in some circumstances, may face harassment and ridicule and even assault, which can lead to murder [...] We, however, do not believe that improving tolerance or ending stigma are achieved through propagandist exaggeration and/or a misunderstanding, deliberate or otherwise, of the social construct of Jamaica so as to place all utterances on a literal plane.
The paper argues that the killing of gays in the island is part of a larger crisis in public safety - they say 1,500 people have been killed so far this year - and argue that the failure to resolve these murders are a reflection of the incompetence rather than outright homophobia.

Most shamefully, the editors end by backing the recently announced police plan to appoint an independent civilian monitor to oversee their investigation of the murder of Mr. Harvey but also imply that they see this as special attention being given to the gay community and demand that the same happen with all other crimes:
Perhaps the system can now be applied to murders in inner-city communities where the bulk of the 1,500 homicides victims reside, whose friends insist that the police will not bring them justice.
The Jamaican Observer is right in pointing out that there are other factors that come into play when it comes to violence in Jamaica and that the police's failure to resolve and prosecute more than 50 percent of these crimes is appaling. And some, and not only The Observer, have raised the issue of why it is that an international community can mobilize quickly around this specific murder but seem to disregard other killings as well as the many who continue dying of AIDS in the island.

I personally believe that the issue of violence in Jamaica is larger than all this and should be confronted but I also believe that the reason why the murder of Steve Harvey seems to have drawn so much attention so quickly is that it has all the markings of a death foretold. Mr. Harvey might not have lived an openly gay life but the reason why he was taken from his house and shot was the fact that he was the only one who did not answer "No" when asked if he was gay. That various international and local human rights agencies had alerted the Jamaican authorities that this would happen and yet they chose to ignore, dismiss or ridicule their findings puts the blood of gays and lesbians in Jamaica in their hands. It might be mostly international agencies raising the alarm but the blood spilled is 100% Jamaican.

As a matter of fact, by playing semantics, continuing to say that questions raised about homophobia and hate crimes in Jamaica amount to "myths.. most dangeroulsy abroad... perpetrated by skilled propagandists... with great political skill," The Jamaica Observer opts to stay the course and blame others for calling attention to the murder of Jamaicans instead of truly taking leadership that is needed to stop these murders.

What Can Be Done (recently forwarded to my mailbox):

Action: Solidarity for Steve Harvey
Mary Ann Torres, ICASO
Dear friends and colleagues:

The night of the 30th of November, 2005, Steve Harvey, a leading Jamaican HIV/AIDS activist who had been working for 14 years to defend the health and human rights of people living with and at high-risk of HIV/AIDS, was murdered. He was found dead early in the morning with gunshot wounds in his back and head in a rural area, miles from his home.

Steve worked with Jamaica AIDS Support since 1997, and represented the interests of marginalized people and people living with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica and throughout the region. As coordinator of targeted interventions for Jamaica AIDS Support, he had been responsible for ensuring that the most marginalized of Jamaicans—gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals; sex workers; prisoners—were provided access to HIV/AIDS information and services. By mid 2005, he was chosen as LACCASO's (Latin America and Caribbean Council of AIDS Service organizations), in-country project coordinator for Jamaica. His capacity, dedication and courage signaled the way for the most successful implementation of our Advocacy Project.

"Steve Harvey was a person of extraordinary bravery and integrity, who worked tirelessly to ensure that some of Jamaica's most marginalized people had the tools and information to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS," said Rebecca Schleifer, researcher with the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch and author of a recent report on anti-gay violence and HIV/AIDS in Jamaica.

Considering the enormous loss Steve's death means for all of us, we request your solidarity, to condemn this brutal crime and request to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Please sign on the following letter, which will be sent to the Jamaican Prime Minister in the days to come. Please distribute this message and collect signatures. Send your support to

Mary Ann Torres
Senior Program Officer
International Council of AIDS Service Organizations – ICASO
Central Secretariat
65 Wellesley Street E., Suite 403
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M4Y 1G7
Tel: (1-416) 921-0018 Ext. 16
Fax: (1-416) 921-9979

The Most Honorable P.J. Patterson
Prime Minister of Jamaica
1 Devon Road
Kingston 6, Jamaica, West Indies

Honorable Prime Minister Patterson:

We the undersigned, organizations and individuals from around the world, condemn the brutal murder of Steve Lenford Harvey, which occurred in Kingston, Jamaica the night of 29th to 30th of November, 2005.

Steve Harvey was a leader and activist who defended the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS and those most vulnerable to infection. He began working for Jamaica AIDS Support (JAS) in 1997; and by the time of his murder he was dedicated to bringing a Jamaican perspective to the implementation of an important international human rights project on HIV prevention and access to HIV treatment.

Steve's vicious assassination has brought pain, anger and desperation to people in Latin America and the Caribbean, and to HIV/AIDS activists and advocates around the world. It ended a life full of commitment, energy and dedication, seeking to improve the quality of life of those most vulnerable to human rights violations. It is difficult for us to understand how this violence without limits and control can take the lives of those who work for a peaceful world and for the development and well-being of our people.

Honorable Prime Minister of Jamaica: We, the undersigned, call on you to:

1. Publicly call for aggressive investigations into this crime, and to punish Steve's murders to the full extent of Jamaican law;

2. Ensure that justice is carried out and impunity avoided, so that other vulnerable Jamaicans are not victims of such criminal attacks;

3. Ensure that the Jamaican Government formulate and enact policies to protect Jamaican citizens from violence, homophobia and all forms of discrimination;

4. That all investigations and findings of criminal responsibility will be undertaken in accordance with human rights conventions and treaties signed by your Government.

On behalf of human rights defenders and HIV/AIDS activists and advocates from around the world, we await your response.

[Mods note: Please contact LACCASO at or Mary Ann Torres from ICASO at for a letter in Spanish or French version.]

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