MANDEVILLE, Jamaica — One night last month, Andre and some friends were finishing dinner when a mob showed up at the front gate. Yelling antigay slurs and waving machetes, sticks and knives, 15 to 20 men kicked in the front door of the home he and his friends had rented and set upon them.
“I thought I was dead,” Andre, 20, a student, recounted in a faint voice, still scared enough that he was in hiding and did not want his full name to be used.
The mob pummeled him senseless. His right hand, the one he used to shield himself from the blows, is now covered with bandages. His skull has deep cut marks and his ear was sliced in half, horizontally. Doctors managed to sew it back together and he can hear out of it again.
Being gay in Jamaica is not easy. For years, human rights groups have denounced the harassment, beating and even killing of gays here, to little avail. No official statistic has been compiled on the number of attacks. But a recent string of especially violent, high-profile assaults has brought fresh condemnation to an island otherwise known as an easygoing tourist haven.
“One time may be an isolated incident,” said Rebecca Schleifer, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who has studied the issue and regularly gets calls from the island from gays under attack. “When they happen on a repeated basis across the country, it is an urgent problem that deserves attention at the highest levels.”
Disapproval of gays is an entrenched part of island life, rooted, Jamaicans say, in the country’s Christian tradition. The Bible condemns homosexuality, they say. But critics say islanders are selective in the verses they cite, and the rage at gay sex contrasts sharply with Jamaicans’ embrace of casual sex among heterosexuals, which is considered part of the Caribbean way.
While some other Caribbean tourist destinations have made a point of marketing to gay travelers, Jamaica has notably not joined the trend.
The double standard on the island is reflected in the antigay lyrics of Jamaican dance hall music, the headlines of more hyperventilating tabloids — “homo” is the term most often used — and the fact that homosexuality remains illegal here, with the specific crime called “buggery.”
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