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|Gay Atlanta men attacked in St. Lucia hate crime|
|by Laura Douglas-Brown|
|March 06, 2011 12:53|
Michael Baker will never forget the last night of his recent vacation in St. Lucia. He recalls the sunset as the best yet of his trip, but what happened next may haunt him for the rest of his life.
Baker serves as director of advancement at Positive Impact, an Atlanta HIV agency. He was visiting St. Lucia, an island in the eastern Caribbean Sea, with his boyfriend, Nick Smith; the pair stayed with another friend from Atlanta, Todd Wiggins, at a mountain-top cottage Wiggins had rented. Wiggins has also been an HIV advocate, including helping found the AIDS Vaccine 200 bicycle fundraiser.
After enjoying the spectacular sunset, Baker and Smith went to the cabin's tiny bathroom for a shower before starting to prepare dinner. It was about 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 2.
Within minutes, the three men would become victims of a robbery that Baker told the GA Voice he feels "very strongly" was motivated by anti-gay hate.
Baker recounted the harrowing ordeal in a Facebook note posted this morning:
I stepped under the water with Nick as he started to lather his hair.
Then I heard a scream I'll never forget. "Oh my god, oh my god, no, no no!!! Stay in the bathroom!! OH MY GOD!"
It didn't make sense... there had been bugs and creatures in and out of the house all week, how could Todd be freaked out by a bug? I went to the door and glanced out. Immediately, I saw a man all in black, his face covered in a tee 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 then climbed over the bathroom wall to get to them, Baker recalled. All three men were herded to the main room of the cottage, a combined dining room and kitchen. All three were brutally beaten and kicked by the men, who wielded guns and knives.
"They began to tell us that 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," Baker wrote in the Facebook note.
"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.
The assailants then tied up the three men and left them in the shower.
"They told us to get off the island. They said they would check on us in five minutes, and if we had untied ourselves, they would kill us," Baker wrote.
Baker and his friends were able to free themselves from the ties and escaped by climbing down the back of the mountain, barefoot and bleeding. They then took a gravel road to eventually reach safety at a friend's house.
Baker said in an email interview that the victims contacted the police, but were fearful because homosexuality is a crime in St. Lucia.
"The police were contacted. The men told us they knew the police and would know if we reported the crime, and told us they would kill us. Initially, the police were almost annoyed with us, almost as if we were the criminals," he recalled. "Todd had a friend in the Ministry of Tourism who pulled some strings and the investigation changed.
"We did mention the anti-gay comments, but since sodomy is a capital offense there, we tread lightly," Baker told GA Voice. "I do feel a lot of shame about that. I will also be contacting the State Department to report the attack."
In the 2008 Human Rights Report on St. Lucia, the U.S. Department of State noted "widespread social discrimination" based on sexual orientation.
"There was widespread social discrimination against homosexuals in the deeply conservative, highly religious society. There were few openly gay people in the country. There were at least two cases of violence against homosexuals, including one young man who was killed when he was hung from a tree because he was openly gay," according to the report.
Baker and Smith returned home to Atlanta the next day, March 3, and praised the kindness of Delta employees on their return flight, where they were greeted by friends when they landed at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Wiggins returned to Atlanta on March 4.
In the Facebook post, Baker thanked everyone who has reached out with support after the attack, and said he continues to grapple with what happened.
"I do think it was partly a gay-bashing. I have so much shame for denying who I was, but I did not feel I could endanger my friend and boyfriend by admitting who I was," he wrote. "I wish I could have fought back more, but we were so over powered. I know that we will all struggle with this for a long time, possibly our whole lives."
Photo: The rental cottage in St. Lucia where three Atlanta men were staying when they were robbed in a possible anti-gay hate crime. (Photo via Facebook)
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