By David McFadden -
A robbery and assault on three gay American tourists at their vacation cottage has St. Lucia officials scrambling to assure visitors that the southern Caribbean island is safe and welcoming for homosexuals.
Tourism Minister Allen Chastanet issued an apology Monday to three men from Atlanta after masked bandits broke into their mountain rental home in Soufriere. One victim said the gunmen made slurs against gays, white people and Americans during the March 2 assault.
The tiny, tourism-dependent Caribbean country is typically peaceful and a safe place for all kinds of travelers, Chastanet said.
He said the attack was "unacceptable behavior and our destination will not tolerate it."
Police announced Monday that they have arrested two suspects in the assault and are looking for three more.
This former British territory is not known as a risky place for gays, particularly compared with other, socially conservative Caribbean islands where many gays are not open about their sexuality.
Nonetheless, a victim who detailed his account of the robbery on Facebook said he believes the attack was "partly a gay bashing."
Michael Baker said he and his companion, Nick Smith, were showering when they heard their friend Todd Wiggins scream in another part of the home. When Baker stepped out of the bathroom, he saw masked men beating Wiggins.
Baker said the armed bandits ultimately beat all three and tied them up.
"They began to tell us that they hated white people. They hated (gays)," Baker wrote. "They told us they had been watching us, and they hated us, and wanted us off the island. They said they would kill us if we did not leave."
After the attackers left, the men freed themselves, hiked down the mountain and were helped by some tourists, Baker said.
Police said the robbers took about $1,800 in cash and some personal items. They said one of the men was treated for minor injuries at a hospital, and they all left St. Lucia soon after.
But in a Monday evening e-mail to The Associated Press, Baker said two laptops were stolen, a watch and several thousand dollars. He also said he and Wiggins were treated at a hospital for their wounds.
"I have suffered a concussion, and both Todd and I had several stitches at the St. Lucia hospital," he said. "We have not been notified by any St. Lucian authorities about arrests made. Additionally, our items, to the best of our knowledge, have not been returned."
Wiggins said he is frustrated with how the assault has been portrayed.
"I feel that the gay media rushed to declare this a hate crime and the St. Lucian police and government officials rushed to dismiss the possibility that any part of the incident was a hate crime," he said in an e-mail.
Ultimately, Baker said he and his friends will struggle with memories of the assault.
"I don't know the full motivation that drove these five men, but I do know that I can feel pity for them," he said.