Yet another voice in the global fight against AIDS has been violently silenced.
Gunmen broke into the home of openly gay Jamaican AIDS activist Steve Harvey Nov. 30—the eve of World AIDS Day—and kidnapped him, according to a report from OutRage! News Service.
The abductors then drove him to a remote rural area, where he was shot in the head and back in an execution-style killing. Harvey was 30 years old.
Jamaican police confirmed that three or four assailants took part in the attack. Moreover, there are allegations that the gunmen menaced Harvey and his two roommates with taunts about their sexuality. The attackers tied up the roommates, looted the house and forced Harvey away at gunpoint, according to reports.
Harvey had played a leading role in the HIV charity Jamaica AIDS Support for Life ( JAS ) since 1997. He organized various HIV awareness and prevention programs for gay men and sex workers, according to Peter Tatchell of the United Kingdom-based LGBT organization OutRage!
PlanetOut.com reported that, on Nov. 27, Harvey led the organization's annual candlelight vigil held in honor of people with AIDS who have died. Gay.com ( UK ) reported that JAS, founded in 1991, is Jamaica's oldest and largest AIDS, human-rights, non-government organization. In JAS's mission statement, the group states that it helps in the fight against HIV/AIDS by providing education.
Activists say that Harvey's death speaks to the larger problem of violence toward gay people who live in Jamaica, where gay sex is still illegal and punishable with up to 10 years in jail, PlanetOut.com noted. Human-rights groups say anti-gay violence is rampant in that country, an assertion confirmed by the group Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays when it traveled to Chicago in February.
Harvey is not the first openly gay man to be killed in Jamaica. Last year, Brian Williamson, one of the country's most vocal gay-rights activists, was murdered. Jamaican reggae star Buju Banton and two others face assault charges involving an attack on six gay men this year, PlanetOut.com noted. ( Banton was identified by several witnesses and even has a song, 'Boom Boom Bye Bye,' that threatens gay men with a 'gunshot in ah head,' according to the British publication Guardian Unlimited. )
The human-rights community has expressed its sadness over the loss of Harvey. '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,' stated Rebecca Schleifer, a 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. ' [ Harvey's ] death on the eve of World AIDS Day gives us one more reason to pause and reflect on the significance of activists' work in the fight against AIDS.'
Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, commented to Windy City Times that Harvey's impact will be sorely missed. 'We've worked with him closely over the years. Unfortunately, Jamaica is just one of the countries where homophobia is practically accepted. It's just devastating to see something like this happen,' she said. Ettelbrick also noted that it is up to everyone to make sure that Harvey's murder 'is investigated thoroughly.'
However, activists were also quick to retain hope that the fight for human rights continues despite Harvey's violent death. ' [ I ] t is essential that his murder does not succeed in intimidating other human-rights workers,' Schleifer said.