Four homeless men fled for their lives after the house they occupied came under attack by an angry mob Tuesday night near St. James in Jamaica. The men, who are gay, were targeted by up to 14 men, who subsequently firebombed the house.
The attack began around 7 p.m. in front of the home, but ultimately, all four men were able to flee to another abandoned house in the parish, near Montego Bay, according to the J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBT advocacy group. "They have no food, clothes, toiletries and no bed but we are trying as best as possible to assist them with our partners," Latoya Nugent, manager of education and outreach at J-FLAG told BuzzFeed.
J-FLAG has been in contact with three of the four victims in the attack and confirms they are gay men. An initial report in The Gleaner states local authorities were unable to take the men into protective custody because they would not be safe at police facilities there, but said they are investigating the attack.
"The incident is part of the ongoing hostility that many Jamaicans who are marginalized and vulnerable because of their socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and homelessness experience," Nugent said. "These men and other vulnerable LGBT Jamaicans are in desperate need of assistance and we are asking persons to support us financially and otherwise."
The organization said it has no information about the perpetrators in the firebomb attack, but noted that many in the nation's LGBT community live in fear of such incidents. On Thursday evening, it called on the Jamaican government to respond to the issue of homelessness, urging Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to open homeless shelters in each parish and provide rehabilitation services to the homeless or displaced.
"There is an ever present atmosphere of hostility towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Jamaicans, especially those from lower socio-economic status who have to be in crowded public spaces and use public transportation," Nugent said. "Unlike some, they do not have the economic wealth and social capital to avoid these spaces that might be more dangerous. As a consequence, many LGBT live in great fear, and they feel inferior, powerless and invisible because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression."
But despite the hostile climate in the country, LGBT Jamaicans have a vibrant and visible community there, Nugent added.
The men are said to be friends of a 17-year-old "crossdressing gay teen," who was stabbed to death July 22 after being seen dancing with another man at a street party. Another man from the Montego Bay area, Dean Moriah, was found fatally beaten and burned Aug. 27 near his home, adding to fears over repeated instances of anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica over the last several months.
However, recent police intervention has prevented the escalation of additional mob violence in some cases.
"The overall sense is that homophobic violence remains a problem, but what seems to have improved to an extent is a police response to the violence," Graeme Reid, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, told BuzzFeed. In 2004, HRW issued a report detailing anti-LGBT violence amid the country's worsening HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The organization is working on another, updated report on the violence, Reid said, adding, "the trend that we are seeing is some improvement, but the situation remains quite dire in Jamaica."