Saturday, December 03, 2005

Jamaica Activist Harvey Murdered + Samo Samo: Shirley Q. Liquor

Lenford Steve HarveyToday I received the following email from UK Blackout, about the horrific murder on November 30, 2005--the day before World AIDS Day--of Lenford "Steve" Harvey (pictured at left, on the left), a leading HIV/AIDS activist and out gay man in Jamaica:

UK Black Out mourns the death of Steve Harvey, a leading Jamaican HIV/AIDS activist who worked tirelessly to defend the health and human rights of people living with and at high-risk of HIV/AIDS.

Harvey, 30, was found dead early in the morning of November 30. According to Jamaican police, at least four assailants forced their way into Harvey’s home when he returned from work around 1 a.m. They tied up Harvey and two people staying with him, stole a number of their possessions, and abducted Harvey in the company car. Harvey was found with gunshot wounds in his back and head in a rural area miles from his home.

For more than a decade, Harvey was a leader in the struggle to defend the health and human rights of people living with and at high risk of HIV/AIDS. He 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.

“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. “I have seen the impact of Steve’s work firsthand, and been inspired by his courage and capacity to reach out to and make a profound difference in the lives of Jamaicans affected by HIV/AIDS. His 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.”

As Kingston coordinator of targeted interventions for Jamaica AIDS Support, Harvey was responsible for ensuring that the most marginalized of Jamaicans—gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals; sex workers; prisoners—were ensured access to HIV/AIDS information and services. For his extraordinary talent and hard work, he was chosen as Jamaica’s representative to the Latin America and Caribbean Council of AIDS Service Organizations. He was also a registered delegate to the People’s National Party conference.

“Steve Harvey’s death is an enormous loss,” Schleifer said. “But it is essential that his murder does not succeed in intimidating other human rights workers. It is vital that the Jamaican government condemns this brutal crime, and brings the perpetrators to justice.”
Human Rights Watch's press release on the tragedy.
Andrés of Blabbeando's writeup is here.
Jamaica AIDS Support for Life's Targeted Intervention page.
The sheer senselessness and brutality of this crime, which involved the murderers robbing Harvey and then abducting him when he refused to deny he was gay, then shooting him to death and leaving his body in a rural parish far from his home, boggles the mind. Yet it isn't surprising given the profoundly and viciously homophobic climate among the non-elites in Jamaica, the continuing criminalization of gay sex (with penalties up to 10 years and little protection in the prisons) and civil inequalities, which are holdovers from the British colonial system, and the complicity of the Jamaican government, the police, the media, and some notable entertainment figures, in homophoboic and heterosexist violence against lesbians, gays and transgendered people.

As Planet Out reports, just last year, activist Brian Williamson (pictured at right) was robbed and brutally slain (literally macheted to death in his home), and singer Buju Banton, whose extremely anti-gay dancehall tirade "Boom Bye Bye" caused an uproar several years ago, is facing charges for having attacked several gay men. (He needs help for his violent obsession with homosexuals.) Andrés notes that NGOs like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty Internationa, and human rights organizations in Jamaica have pressed the government to address the situation, and on the very day Harvey's death was reported, the New York Times entered the fray with an editorial on the subject. (Andrés notes that the Los Angeles Times had published an article "In Jamaica, Gay Rights Now an Issue Worth Debating" a few weeks earlier.) Organizations like J-Flag, which Williamson and others co-founded in 1988, and other activists in Jamaica continue courageously in the face of open hostility. Harvey was one of the courageous ones, and we should all mourn his death, praise his achievements, and support LGBT and HIV/AIDS activists in Jamaica in any and every way we can.


On a completely different note (except that it involves Black people and gay people and some Black gay people), the more some things change, the more they...well, you know the rest of that old saw. But it's true. Take for example Exhibit A, the Zeppelin-sized, racist White drag performer Charles Knipp, also known as Shirley Q. Liquor, whose offensive blackface minstrel sendups of a Black single mother on welfare have drawn repeated protests in New York, going back to 2002.

As Keith Boykin noted on his blog at the time, the Brooklyn-based social service organization People of Color in Crisis (POCC) led the protests, which also included people affiliated with the Audre Lorde Project, New York's Anti-Violence Project, and the youth group Fierce. Their aim was not to silence this hatemonger, yet the NYPD ended up shutting down the site of Knipp-Liquor's performance, the gay View Bar in Chelsea, and fined it $5000 for a "quality of life" infraction. Still, despite the New York schooling, the Knipp-Liquor dirigible took its "Ignunce" tour on the road, supposedly going on to Pittsburgh, Boston, Austin, and other points south and north (including Toronto). It appeared that there was an audience for this noxious, stereotypical jiving, so much so that Knipp-Liquor returned to New York in early 2004 and performed to a packed, mostly White gay audience at the Slide (which included noted scholar Michael Warner), while protesters, led by activist Colin Robinson, picketed and leafletted outside the venue.
Knipp-Liquor had previously created a stir with his grotesquely offensive song "12 Days of Kwanzaa," which he premiered in 2001. That year he also ran under the name "Shirley Q. Liquor" on the Libertarian line for a Congressional seat in Texas, and claimed that he was a Black woman with 19 children. Lest anyone unfamiliar with him think of his performance as a kind of homage or femmage, as he has claimed, Knipp-Liquor has repeatedly made clear how virulent his racism was on his homepage, which sounds off much more extensively--and ignorantly--on the "ignunce" tip, with racist jokes, ads, and so on about Blacks people. The Long Beach, Mississippi native and Quaker adherent has stated that he was inspired to go to nursing school by Diahann Carroll's pioneering TV character "Julia," and that "in [his] youth, black women nurtured [him]"; his perverse and cheap form of tribute has been to ridicule "Black names," the lives of poor and working-class Black women in particular.

And now, Knipp-Liquor is back in the news. According to the Newsblog, and DailyKos, WGNI-FM, a radio station in Wilmington, North Carolina, is showcasing Knipp-Liquor's "12 Days of Kwanzaa. As both blogs report

Wilmington, NC's WGNI-FM is showcasing "The 12 Days of Kwaanza" as part of its Christmas music programming. The song is a favorite of white supremacists and racist talk radio shows, and a particular favorite of "The Black Avenger," Ken Hamblin. My wife and I heard it and were stunned at its naked racism. Unbelievable! We called the program manager and complained, only to be told that the song was "nationally marketed" and they would play it when they damn well felt like it. Hmpf. So I composed a letter to the station and...well, read more below.

The Kossack who posted the information points out that the station responded very dismissively, going so far as to post his letter in their "Hate Mail" section and feature a picture of Knipp-Liquor, in blackface of course. So I'm reposting the station's contact email information he listed below, so that you can take action if you see fit. If you're an empiricist and need evidence, here's a link to the song. Remember that this is not Dave Chappelle or even Sandra Bernhard creating this, but a White Southern man who parades around in blackface, shamelessly mocking Black folks. In the 21st century. One thing Knipp-Liquor did get right, and I quote from Nicholas Boston's Gay City News article:
"'Y'all need to be ashamed, white people....You ain’t right.'"

Whom to contact:


Cumulus Media: contact through their Web site at




  1. John, this post was absolutely crucial. Thank you for it. I'm truly beyond words with these all to frequent, and increasing, incidents of horrific violence.

  2. Rest in Peace, Lenford "Steve" Harvey. Thanks, John for telling this story.

    On Shirley Q: Ok. Let's say that you are a black person and have it all worked out and are not offended by the act. What I still don't get is: Why is it entertaining? Why is that what you want to see?

  3. Frank, I hear you. There's no excuse under the sun for what Harvey, Patterson and others experienced. None. Jamaica really has got to get its act together and I don't say that facilely.

    Mendi, such a good question. I mean, what on earth would be entertaining about this? I was thinking, perhaps if you're a Black person and have worked it out, perhaps it could be the sheer interest in spectacle, or you want to see how those around you who haven't worked it out are taking it in (so it's almost like an empirical or scientific experience), or perhaps you want to see just how far this creature goes. What does it mean to provide this creature with an audience? To participate? To collude?

    Saying all of that, the playing of that song and the station's response to the complaint enrage me.

  4. I sort of understand the interest in spectacle. I don't understand the willingness to collude. I find the station's response unacceptable, but not surprising in this time in which "political correctness" is commonly thought to be a social ill.