By Albert Jones
Monrovia – Gboko Stewart, News Curator of the esteemed online human rights news outlet, journalRage, says he needs help and support in order to continue providing unbiased and much-needed coverage of the LGBT community in Liberia.
“I do need support to be able to continue what I do,” he said in an interview. “Currently the laptop which I started journalRage with three years ago has been down since November of last year. I haven’t been able to write news stories. I bought it in 2019 for US$120 for–unbelievable though–US$120.”
He revealed that journalRage has operated steadily for the last three years without support.
“What we have had is a goFundMe created by one of my best friends in Berlin, and it rests solely on the generosity of our readers. And over the last three years, donations from it have gone towards paying for things such as access to the internet, transportation and meeting sources in safe spaces, etc.
journalRage, an online news publication that provides absolute coverage on Liberia’s underground Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community began in 2019.
Since its launch, the journalRAGE has gone on to break heart-wrenching news of systemic violence being perpetrated against the LGBT community in Liberia, earning Stewart the Press Union of Liberia’s coveted Human Rights Reporter 2021 award.
Stewart has also used the platform to raise support for a kid to continue his education when his mother threw him out as well as helping the trans community during the peak of the outbreak of COVID-19 to raise funds.
But despite this, the Liberian human rights journalist says the milestone accomplished by journalRage would be tanked.
“If there’s a stoppage in my reportage, I think a lot of things against the LGBT community would go unnoticed and with impunity or without any redress, and a lot of these human rights organizations won’t have contents for their annual reports relative to issues affecting the LGBT community.
“At the moment, I am hamstrung – no laptop, recorder, camera, and funds to move across the country reporting on a community no journalist wants to pay attention to because they are afraid of stigma or labels.”
The Liberian journalist says he currently needs around US$1,500 to purchase a used laptop, buy an internet router with 6 months worth of data subscription, a camera, and a recorder.
The LGBT community continues to see an uptick in violence against it, according to the US State Department 2020 Human Rights report on Liberia.
In September 2020, Cheeseman Cole, an ex-soldier using social media allegedly brutalized over 27 men suspected of being gay when he lured them to his residence. Two men – Dominic Renner and Winston Toe – remain missing. Cole was arrested and detained briefly, and granted bail. The case has not been called to trial since.
Stewart’s reportage was instrumental in getting Cole arrested and helping the Police trace their disappearance to him. In May 2021, two men and a teenager were severely brutalized while returning from a wake over allegations they were gays. The men were arrested when Stewart’s story was lifted by FrontPage Africa.
“If I hadn’t reported on Cheeseman Cole, he would still be luring men suspected of being gay on social media. My report was able to get him arrested, even though he was freed on bail and the government, for reasons unknown, has failed to bring the case to trial or bring closure to the families of the two men who are still missing.
For organizations working such as Liberia Equality Network whose work borders on human rights issues, it’s pertinent to have outlets such as journalRAGE dedicated to reporting on these issues.
“Wrong media reporting has been one of the major obstacles faced by human rights defenders over the years,” the human rights organization said in a statement. “However, journalRAGE as a media institution has stood up to the task to appropriately report on activities and issues relating to and affecting the community.”
The organization said journalRAGE’s emergence has been a game-changer in professional reporting on sexual minorities. “We do understand how difficult it is to operate media that seeks to uplift the voices of marginalized minority persons who are unaccepted by the majority. We will continue to support journalRAGE with our voices.
“We hope that this media platform receives all the social and financial support needed to increasingly present LGBTIQ issues with love, dignity, and respect.”
For Stewart, it is a testament to how ingrained his work is in a community dying to be heard and recognized.
“It goes on to show you the significance of what I do and why it mustn’t be allowed to come to an abrupt halt.”