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|Gay men robbed in St. Lucia want attackers prosecuted|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|March 15, 2011 22:28|
Three gay men, including one from Atlanta, who were robbed and beaten earlier this month in St. Lucia want police to arrest and prosecute their assailants. Others associated with the east Caribbean island, however, are concerned news of the attack will harm the island’s reputation and the tourism dollars it needs to survive.
The St. Lucia government issued an apology to Michael Baker of Atlanta, his boyfriend Nick Smith of South Carolina, and Todd Wiggins, who was living in St. Lucia with his partner at the time of the attack. Wiggins, formerly of Atlanta, and his partner, Tom Richman, are currently staying with relatives in South Georgia.
“St. Lucia does not condone such acts of violence [that] appeared to be perpetrated by individuals whose views do not reflect sentiments of the majority of law-abiding citizens,” the St. Lucia government said in a statement, according to a March 14 article in the Jamaica Observer.
“Whether or not this crime was motivated by anti-gay sentiment, or during the course of robbery, it is none-the-less unacceptable behaviour and our destination will not tolerate it. Our law enforcement authorities are pursuing this matter relentlessly,” the statement read.
While visiting St. Lucia for a vacation, Baker and Smith stayed with Wiggins at a mountain-top cottage Wiggins had rented with his partner beginning in November 2010.
On March 2 at about 6:30 p.m., Baker and Smith went to the cabin’s tiny bathroom for a shower before starting to prepare dinner. Just after stepping in the shower, Baker wrote in a Facebook note about the incident that he heard Wiggins screaming, "Oh my god” and “stay in the bathroom.”
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," 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. 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, director of advancement for Atlanta AIDS agency Positive Impact, said in an interview with the GA Voice this week he still believes the attack was “fueled, in part, by anti-gay sentiment” and acknowledged he and Wiggins might disagree on the motive of the crime.
“My personal view is the motive was robbery,” Wiggins, a freelance writer, said in an interview with the GA Voice this week. He also wrote about the experience on his website.
“I had a feeling at least one or two of the men were at least familiar with me. I think the violence intensified because they thought we were gay. I don’t think this was a hate crime but I do think aspects of it deserve a closer look," Wiggins said.
Conflicting information about the attack has been reported in various media outlets, including the Associated Press and the Jamaica Observer, since the GA Voice broke the story on March 6.
According to published reports, the St. Lucia police have stated they have arrested two of the five men who robbed the gay men. However Wiggins, who is in continuous contact with the lead investigator in St. Lucia, said that is not true. Reports that the stolen property has been retrieved are also false, Wiggins added.
“You would think the lead investigating officer would know that,” Wiggins said March 15. “And if the stolen property has been recovered someone would have told us.”
St. Lucia representative: ‘This is not a gay bashing’
Denis Ishmael, president of the St. Lucia Association of Georgia, told the GA Voice there is no proof the crime was motivated by anti-gay hate and he very concerned how this story may damage the island’s greatest industry — tourism.
“This is not, and I’m going to emphasize it, not a gay bashing,” Ishmael said March 15. “When I heard of the story, I immediately called St. Lucia authorities and asked questions. I was told by all my sources there was no proof this was a crime against gays.”
Ishmael, who stressed he did not speak for the St. Lucian government, said while he is sorry the attack happened, he challenged the men to bring forth proof the crime was a gay bashing. Ishmael said the crime was likely a robbery that occurred and the victims just happened to be gay.
“He happens to be gay and he was robbed,” Ishmael said of Baker, who he singled out during the interview.
“St. Lucians are not like that. I know the character of the people — what was his [Baker’s] intention? To damage St. Lucia’s reputation? St. Lucia’s economy hinges, clings, on tourism. When things are said and they are not factual, it damages the reputation of St. Lucia.”
Baker said his only intention in going public with the story in the first place was to ensure the police investigated the crime thoroughly, arrested the suspects and then prosecuted them to ensure they could not hurt anyone else.
“I’m not trying to damage St. Lucia’s reputation. This is a horrible crime. If it happened here [in the U.S.] I would want the police to prosecute,” Baker said. “We did nothing to deserve this. We never invited the attack.”
Ishmael said that when the attackers saw that Baker and Smith were in the shower together, that was likely what caused them to shout anti-gay slurs at the men as they robbed and beat them.
“They only found out the guys were gay after they got in the room,” Ismael said. “It is unusual in our culture to see two men taking a shower together.”
Ishmael acknowledged homosexuality is illegal in St. Lucia, but said the law is “archaic” and not enforced.
He also admitted that “gay” is an American word and that St. Lucians still use the “F-word.”
He also stated that a recent crime in Texas where 18 men are accused of raping an 11-year old girl does not keep people from visiting Texas.
“I’m not trying in any way to belittle the crime … but that crime doesn’t mean all Texans are rapists,” Ishmael said. “St. Lucia is a wonderful, friendly place.”
‘We are all survivors’
St. Lucia Foreign Minister Rufus Bousquet told the Jamaica Observer for a March 13 story that there might be an ulterior motive by the victims.
“Sometimes in government we are privy to information which we can’t necessarily release and which in some cases is speculative because you can’t actually prove it, so while there may be more to this the fact of the matter is it is a most unfortunate incident and not the kind of thing that we like to see in St Lucia,” Bousquet said. “Generally the government will never condone such a thing as we find it reprehensibly and should be condemned in every circle in which there is a facility to condemn it.”
Baker took issue with Bousquet’s and Ishmael’s comments, saying the men had no other motive but to see their attackers arrested.
“My intention is for them to stop disparaging me in the press and investigate the crime and prosecute the men and to regain some of my humanity. We were treated as less than animals,” Baker said.
Baker said he is unsure if he will ever visit St. Lucia again, although up until the day they were attacked he said they met many nice people and loved the beauty of the island.
Wiggins was volunteering at a primary school in St. Lucia to teach 6th grade students to read and conducting a book drive for students (donations can be made at “Books for St. Lucia” on Facebook). He said he and his partner will “eventually” move back to St. Lucia.
“I know this one incident does not represent the majority of the island,” Wiggins said. “The criminals did this. The impact of what they did hurt not only us but also hurts St. Lucia and these kids.
Baker, Smith and Wiggins issued a statement today to clarify incorrect information being reported. Read the full statement here.
Top photo: Michael Baker (right) and his boyfriend, Nick Smith, in St. Lucia. (via Facebook)
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