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, he attackers yelled homophobic remarks and beat them severely with a tire iron. As of now, Smith is still in the hospital with brain damage, and will be in a Miami hospital for at least a month.
While the beating itself is a terrible story, the larger issue at stake is the fact that bar employees called St. Maarten police to report the attack, but received no response; Jefferson also called police, but did not receive help either, and went so far as to tell Jefferson they weren’t interested in tracking down the attackers, despite the severity of the attack. No word whether the lack of interest was because police knew the victims were gay, or whether the police simply didn’t want to file a report and scare away future tourism business.
We’ve spent lots of time in the Caribbean, and we cannot stress enough the need for gay travelers to take precautions. While St. Maarten has long held a reputation for being a very gay-friendly vacation spot, the people living in most of the Caribbean (especially Jamaica) and islands of Bermuda and The Bahamas are notoriously and unapologetically homophobic. (And there’s also the issue of police inefficacy–remember the botched investigation of Natalee Holloway‘s murder in Aruba?)
In response to St. Maarten’s disinterest in prosecuting violence against gay travelers, here is a section of HRC‘s letter to the Dutch Ambassador Boudewijn Johannes Van Eenennaam. We wholeheartedly agree with their sentiments.
(FYI: The island of St. Martin is split into two separate nations: half is French-ruled St. Martin, while the other half, St. Maarten, is Dutch.)
His Excellency Boudewijn Johannes Van Eenennaam,
The Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
4200 Linnean Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Dear Mr. Ambassador Van Eenennaam:
Saint Maarten gained the dubious distinction last week of becoming one of the latest places were an anti-gay hate crime has occurred. Two American tourists from New York, Dick Jefferson and Ryan Smith, became the victims of a particularly vicious and brutal attack.
Unfortunately, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community has had to deal with such hate-filled violence terrorizing our community for years. However, even more troubling in this particular case is the apparent lack of attention local authorities paid to the immediate needs of the case.
…Mr. Jefferson faulted Saint Maarten authorities for not being vigilant in pursuing witnesses that could have led to a possible quick arrest. When someone is beaten by three men with tire irons we expect authorities to put their full resources to apprehending the perpetrators.
Saint Maarten has been a popular tourist destination for many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans for years. This recent news will most certainly give pause to members of our community who are planning any future travels to the area.
A failure to conduct a full and complete investigation to apprehend a hate crime perpetrator not only allows prejudice to fester but keeps citizens and tourists at risk. I certainly hope that the government of the Netherlands understands the seriousness of this crime and will take immediate steps to ensure a full and complete investigation.
Human Rights Campaign
Gay tourists attacked in St. Maarten [CBS]