One thing’s for certain, St Lucia is not the most ‘gay friendly’ island in the region. Those spots are reserved for places like the French, Dutch and US Islands. St Barts is seen as the most gay friendly island, followed by St Martin, Puerto Rico, (where gay travellers benefit from protection by US anti discrimination laws) the US Virgin Islands and Curacao, the island with the most gay friendly embrace. Other islands like Jamaica, Barbados, and the Cayman Islands all have a reputation for homophobia. In most of the other English-speaking Caribbean territories, gay sex—if it’s between males, mostly—remains illegal. St Lucia, falls somewhere in the middle when it comes to levels of homophobia.
Who can forget in March of 2005 when a gay nudist Windjammer cruise was stopped from entering St Kitts and Nevis? Even islands seen as gay friendly have their own tribulations. Back in 2006 two gay American tourists, Richard Jefferson and Ryan Smith, were attacked on the island of St Maarten by a group of men after leaving a bar together. According to witnesses, attackers shouted homophobic remarks and beat them severely.
More recently in St Lucia, a story entitled, “Gay Atlanta Men Attacked in St Lucia Hate Crime” began making the rounds over the Internet. Police here have confirmed that three men were at their cottage near a high end resort in Soufriere, when five armed masked men entered and robbed them of cash, laptops and cell phones. Police say two of the three were tied up and one was injured during the robbery when he was dealt a blow with a gun.
The victims’ ordeal has already piqued the interest of international news media. An Atlanta based newspaper, the GA Voice, carried the entire incident, from the perspective of the three men.
According to the article, Michael Baker, director of advancement of Positive Impact, an Atlanta HIV Agency, said it was the last night of his tropical vacation, and he was taking in a truly remarkable sunset that would fit in nicely with the other memories he would take home after his trip. Baker was on island with his boyfriend, Nick Smith and they stayed with a friend, Todd Wiggins.
Settling in after watching the sunset, the story stated, Baker and Smith showered together before getting set to prepare dinner at about 6:30pm on Wednesday, March 2. Their casual night in would turn to one of horror within minutes.
In an online posting Baker wrote: “I heard a scream I’ll never forget. ‘Oh my God, oh my God, no, no no! Stay in the bathroom! Oh my God!’”
The note on Facebook continued: “I went to the door and glanced out. I saw a man all in black, his face covered in a t-shirt so I could only see his eyes and the gun in his hand. We were going to die. I didn’t see, but knew there was more than one because someone was attacking Todd. I closed the door hard, realized there was no lock, and pressed myself against the door as hard as I could, waiting for the bullet to come through the door. The door pushed back against me, hard. Then harder as another person began to shove. It opened far enough that I could see two faces, guns and hands pushing to get in. I shoved back as hard as I could, and it closed. I forgot there was no ceiling on the bathroom or the pantry on the other side of the mirror.”
The men made their way into the bathroom by climbing over the wall. Baker and Smith were led, still naked into the living room where Wiggins was and all three reported being beaten by the armed intruders. Baker believes the robbery was motivated by anti-gay hate.
“They asked if we were gay. Why had we showered together? Todd and I both said it was because the water heater was so small. They said if we were faggots they would kill us,” he said. “They told us they hated white people. They hated faggots. They asked where we were from. We told them the United States. They told us again how much they hated us. They began to kick me in the back and the side. I saw the blood flowing out of my forearm.”
Contrary to the police report that two of the three men were tied up, the article in the GA Voice stated that all three men were tied up and left in the shower. Baker said the attackers threatened to return in five minutes and if they’d untied themselves, they’d be killed. After the thieves left with their belongings, the friends managed to untie themselves. They made their way to safety at a friend’s house, then seeked police intervention, which they say they were scared to do because of the fact that homosexuality is a crime here.
“Initially, the police were almost annoyed with us, almost as if we were the criminals,” Baker retold. They had to turn to Wiggins who contacted a friend in the tourism ministry who got the investigation going. The three men are presently back in Atlanta.
Police here say only one man is in police custody assisting investigations. Since the attack St Lucia has been labelled as “a getaway known for its widespread discrimination based on sexual orientation” in several international news articles.
On an HTS news broadcast tourism minister Allen Chastanet said he felt the incident was motivated by nothing more than greed and he had not seen any major record here to suggest St Lucia was overly homophobic.
“We have had incidents here when we’ve had gay men who’ve complained they’ve been beaten up or chastised, and that exists whether gay is accepted or not,” he said. “We’re disturbed with the fact that there was no security, and it really brings to light again the ministries efforts to license these people.
According to Chastanet, in terms of issues that needed to be followed up on here, there was need for all tourism related operators to be licensed. Meanwhile, local police say they have recovered all stolen material.
“We have no evidence suggesting that these people were robbed because of their sexual orientation,” the RSLPF PROfficer Trevor Constantine said yesterday. “Right now we are treating this as a robbery investigation and have no leads suggesting a hate crime.”
The following is a Statement from Senator the Honourable Allen M. Chastanet
Minister of Tourism & Civil Aviation March 10, 2011:
The Government and people of Saint Lucia would like to extend sincere apologies and wish speedy recovery to Mr. Todd Wiggins, Mr. Michael Baker and Mr. Nick Smith – victims of recent criminal activity while on vacation here.
This particular incident appeared to be perpetrated by individuals whose views do not reflect sentiments of the majority of law-abiding citizens. Saint Lucia does not condone such acts of violence. Whether or not this crime was motivated by anti-gay sentiment, or during the course of robbery, it is none-the-less unacceptable behavior and our destination will not tolerate it. Our law enforcement authorities are pursuing this matter relentlessly.
Saint Lucia has always been a safe destination, respectful of people’s own choices for religion, beliefs and perspectives on life.
We are saddened by the experience these three men suffered while staying with us, and while horrible crimes such as these can happen anywhere across the globe, we are deeply disappointed that it should have happened here.
Our authorities will continue to provide updates on the police investigation.