A lesbian couple’s ordeal in Antigua

(published with permission)
Date of Incident: 11/8/08 Location: The Island of Antigua
Report by: Shannon Anderson and Molly Anderson
At approximately 4:30pm Antiguan time, we walked down to the beach next to the Cocobay Resort, accompanied by the photographer. She had been taking pictures of us at the resort. The dining pavilion was already set-up on the beach, as were the dining tables and flower arrangements. The barbeque was set up and the steel drum band had arrived. 13 of our friends and family were already waiting for us on the beach and greeted us on arrival with cheering and clapping. After a few more photographs, we started the readings we had written for our party. We had several readings which were started by a female family friend. Shannon noticed a man in a straw hat and t-shirt behind our group who was speaking loudly on a cell phone and also saw a police vehicle and policeman standing further back by the tree. Shannon mentioned the police presence, however did not think it was regarding the party. Kelly, Shannon’s sister started reading her poem and at this point the policeman started to walk through our group telling us to stop. The man in the straw hat was clearly directing the police at the scene. The policeman started to talk to Larry, one of Molly’s friends, and we watched as more police cars showed up. There appeared to be three police vehicles and 6 to 8 police officers on the beach.
We walked towards the tree to get out of the direct sun and one of the female officers started shouting at us to stop walking. We told her that we just wanted to get out of the sun and still she shouted at us to stop walking. We continued to the tree and three officers physically blocked our exit and prevented us from leaving the beach. The police officers would not talk to us. Shannon introduced herself twice and extended her hand asking for them to introduce themselves, which they initially refused, then one of the female officers muttered her name and refused to give it again. O’Neal Richards the manager of the resort, was talking to the policeman in charge Officer Crumb(?) and another police officer was telling our female friend that she had to go with them. She asked if she was under arrest. The police officer refused to answer and told her that it would be better for all of us if we went with them. O’Neal came over to us and explained that we would have to go to the police station for questioning. Officer Crumb(?) walked over with him and also refused to shake Shannon’s hand and only introduced himself after she asked his name.
He said that we needed to come for questioning. Shannon asked him what questions they needed answered and he said that we would find out at the station. She asked him if this was an option and he said no, that we had to go to the station with them right away. Shannon asked if we could get changed out of our dresses and into something more comfortable. The officer said absolutely not and we had to come as we were. Shannon asked if we could at least grab something to cover our shoulders and chest area and again the officer refused and started to herd us towards a police car. Officers on the scene had their handcuffs out in case we did not cooperate with them. Officer Crumb (?) said that our family could bring clothes for us and there would be a place we could change at the police station. At that time, the police confiscated the readings we had created. We asked if we would be able to see our family at the station and he said yes. At this point all of the officers started to tell us that we had to go now. Shannon asked to get shoes for Molly, as Molly was barefoot. One of the female officers told us that she could not get shoes and that our families could bring her shoes to the jail. We both shouted for Molly’s mother to run over to us with flip-flops and were able to get them to Molly before being placed inside the vehicle. There seemed to be some discussion as to where the female officer should sit and which car our friend was going into, but our friend was then brought over and placed into the vehicle with us. A male officer drove and a female officer was in the front passenger seat.
During the ride, the police officers joked about their lives and that they were going to be working overtime tonight because of us. The male officer said that he was happy that President elect Obama was going to be President of the United States because he was black and that he was one of “them.” The police drove us through a large market in town and everyone jeered at us. Through town, the police officer drove no faster than 10 mph.
They drove the car to a side alleyway with no signs on the building to identify it as a police building. There were no police vehicles in this alley and all three of us became increasingly frightened. The police directed us towards a staircase that led to a second floor. A man in a dirty polo shirt and sweat pants met us and directed us towards a room at the back. We all sat down in the 3 chairs placed in front of a desk. Eventually the man in the polo-shirt came in. Shannon introduced herself and extended her hand.
The man initially refused to shake her hand, then did so reluctantly and introduced himself as Superintendent Henry Christian. Our friend asked him why we were here and he told us that he didn’t know all of the details and it was what they were finding out. He told us that laws had been broken and we were all in serious trouble. Our friend asked him what laws he was speaking of and he refused to answer. Our friend then asked him if we were under arrest and again he refused to answer. He took our names, nationality and place of residence. The officers who drove us to this jail also sat in the room with us. Henry asked us to start discussing what had happened and Molly started to explain. Henry interrupted her and told her that anything we said could be used against us. Our friend spoke up and asked if we all needed attorneys and he said that was what we needed to find out. He started to question her about her profession back in the United States and she refused to comment and at this time asked to speak to a lawyer and also asked to speak to the US Embassy. Henry called for Officer Crumb(?), and around this time several people walked in the room. It was difficult to tell who was in the office as many people were behind us, but the photographer from our party came in as did her boss (I believe the photographer was there because she had refused to give the police the photographs she had taken of us) and another man came in and sat behind us. As before, none of the new men in the small room introduced themselves or were in uniform. The man behind us was wearing baggy street clothes and had on a baseball cap that sat at an angle on his head like a teenager. Our friend asked his name and he said that it was Ryan and was the Station Officer. He had no badge and offered no credentials.
The photographer asked why we were all here and why she was there. She was concerned that there was no hotel representative with us for this line of questioning. Henry smiled at her and told her it was not her concern. Shannon told him that we were all very worried about not knowing what was happening and wanted to know what was going on. Henry told us that by the laws of Antigua, he had the right to hold us for 48 hours without charging us with anything. He further explained that it was the weekend and Monday was a holiday- so we would be held until Wednesday or Thursday before we even knew what was going on. Molly asked again why we were here and he said that we had attempted to hold an “illegal marriage” and that attempting to carry out an illegal act carried the same punishment as actually committing one. We told him that we were not getting married, but instead having a party/barbeque on the beach with our friends and family to celebrate our recent vows taken in the state of California and that no actual legal ceremony of any form was taking place on the island of Antigua. Shannon asked if she could ask a question and he interrupted her and refused to let her ask.
Henry asked us where our travel documents (passports) were, and we told him that everything was back at the hotel. Henry asked for our hotel room numbers and seemed upset that we were both in the same room. Henry made us repeat that we were indeed sharing the same room. Our friend asked why he needed our travel documents and he told us that before the end of the night, he would have all of our travel documents in his possession and that we were not going anywhere. He then instructed one of his officers to go to the hotel and retrieve our documents. The boss of the photographer asked Henry why we were still being held and told him that our family was waiting below in the station and asked that we could see them. Henry refused. We told him that they had brought clothes for us to change into, he refused to let us see them and walked over to the thermostat and turned the air conditioning colder. We all said that we were cold already and he just ignored us. Henry kept walking in and out of the office during this period. He would come in and sit at his desk and just stare at our breasts. He made sure we knew he was staring as he would stare then raise his eyes to meet ours then lower his stare back to our breasts smiling. Our friend thought she was going to throw up and needed to go to the bathroom.
The female officer escorted her and we were left alone with the male officers, who just stared at us and our breasts. Ryan started moving his chair closer and closer to us and was leering. When our friend returned, Ryan started talking to her and acting inappropriately. He started to ask her to talk to him in private; “just you and me lady, come on, come on lady, you know you want to talk to me, come on lady, come on lady.” He kept on like this, scooting closer in his chair. She flat out refused. His manner was not professional, and we began to feel that we were in actual physical danger of being attacked or sexually assaulted. The way the officers kept leering at us and bullying us, we really became frightened and told them so. Molly started to cry for a moment and the officers seemed happy that she was afraid. We tried to reassure each other and say that it would be okay, but the officers told us not to speak in hushed tones and that we had to say everything loud enough for them to hear. But when we did, they told us it wasn’t loud enough and we had to keep repeating ourselves. We were told that if we needed the bathroom then we would have to use the inmate toilet. As Molly and I were still in revealing dresses, we both were too frightened to use the bathroom.
Henry kept asking her what her profession was, she told him that it wasn’t relevant and she did not have to answer his questions without an attorney present. We told him that our friend was simply our friend and we had asked her to read our words and poetry. Henry had the readings in his hands and said that these were wedding vows and our wedding was illegal. Shannon told him again that this was an unofficial ceremony – not a marriage- without any legal bearing. It was simply to voice our promises to each other in front of our loved ones. Our friend said that we were aware that gay marriage was not legally recognized in Antigua, but that did not make any renewal of vows or promises illegal. Henry refused to answer her and again demanded her to say what her profession was. She again declined to answer. He again asked why and she told him that none of us knew the laws of Antigua and as he had told us what we said could be used against us, she wanted counsel. O’Neal arrived into the room and spoke to Henry. He asked why we were still being held here and that no laws had been broken. Henry told him that we had possibly breached laws very severely and that we were waiting for further information. O’Neal told him that he was going to call for the resorts attorneys.
Henry then told him if he was getting a lawyer, then he was getting his own and told us that he was calling the top prosecutor for Antigua. Officer Crumb(?) entered and Henry asked him for his “on the scene account.” He told Henry that he had received a phone call “tip” at 12 noon from …… At that point, Henry cut him off and told him that that information was not important and to continue on with his report. Crumb said that we had scheduled a wedding ceremony on the beach and that we had applied for a wedding license and had been denied but we chose to do it anyway. He said that when he arrived at the beach, the ceremony was set-up and under way and that he had stopped it. Shannon told Henry that we had never applied for a wedding license as we were not getting married. Henry asked one of his officers to go and get three “devices”. Our friend asked him what the “devices” were and Henry told her they were “Legal devices” and would not elaborate. He then asked if Molly and I owned property together, we told him no and he told his officer that we would need three “devices”. Another man came in at this time and he sat down next to Henry. Henry started to fill him in on the situation and told him that we had applied for a marriage license and even though we were denied, continued with our wedding. Henry tried to get him to look over our readings that were confiscated at the scene and the new man said no and asked us why after being denied a marriage license we continued with our wedding. Shannon explained again that we never applied for a license that we were holding a party/barbeque with our family and were conducting a promise ceremony that had no legal bearing in the Country of Antigua. Shannon told him that it had been arranged this with the Cocobay resort over a year ago- and had anyone advised us that there would be a legal issue we would not have decided to stay in Antigua. We told him that there were several other places we could have gone, but we chose Antigua because it seemed perfect.
Henry walked out again and we asked the new man who he was, he told us he was the Assistant Superintendent and he told us not to worry. This questioning went on for about 4 hours. Eventually Henry told us that same sex marriage and commitment ceremonies were illegal in Antigua and had the police not stopped the ceremony before we had completed our vows, then we would all be in serious trouble and going to jail. He then told O’Neal that as a hotelier, he should know all of this already and abide by the laws of Antigua. He then said we were being released and were free to go. Molly asked for our binder containing our readings and Henry told us that they were evidence of attempting to conduct an illegal act and we could not have them back. Molly then asked for the binder that held the documents and the card that was inside. Henry told her that he would not give us anything and we could get a lawyer and see if we could get it on a later date. We were escorted back down the outside staircase and told that we had to go out into the street -as once you are released you have to exit the premises. We saw that there were many people on the dark street and asked if we could just wait there for a few minutes because we felt very vulnerable in our dresses. They again said no. O’Neal showed up with a taxi and ushered us into it. We were reunited with our waiting family just before we got into the van and all drove home together.
Molly’s father and friend Larry had come to the police station and had repeatedly asked to see us. They were shouted at by the police in the station and were told that it was not their country and to just sit down and be quiet. Larry had contacted the American Consulate and the man he spoke with was not very helpful and said that one of us was probably going to be held overnight and that there was nothing much he could do. After we were released Larry contacted him again and he was not aware that we had been released and seemed surprised to learn that there were no charges against any of us.
We returned to the resort and all felt very afraid. Our experience at the police station gave us the impression that we could have been hurt or sexually assaulted while at the station and could still that evening. Our hotel room was a private cottage on the beach and we were all scared that someone would break in during the night. We barricaded our doors with furniture. After speaking with the staff from the resort the next morning and discussing the recent shooting of a British couple on their honeymoon at the neighboring resort (they had been in a similar secluded cottage and had been attacked in the night as they slept), they advised us that locals could be roused up and we could be at great risk. Fearing for our lives, we left the country on the next plane.
We asked the resort about the man on the beach in the straw hat. He had been yelling into his phone demanding to speak with the Antiguan Ministry of Justice and seemed to be directing the police. No-one seems to know who this man was.
On Monday morning the following story appeared on the front page of the local newspaper:
Police prevent same-sex marriage
Monday November 10 2008
By; Aarati Jagdeo
A same-sex marriage ceremony was prevented by police last Saturday afternoon, after they received a call that such a union was set to take place at Cocos Hotel and Restaurant.
According to Inspector Cornelius Charles, the female couple is from California and had invited friends and family down to take part in the ceremony.
When police arrived at Cocos, they met everything set up and in place for a wedding ceremony, which had not yet begun.
The police then rounded up all the individuals involved, including the couple and the conductors of the ceremony.
After some consultation with the heads of the police force and collaboration with the director of public prosecutions (DPP), it was decided that the couple would not be charged because the actual act of marriage did not occur.
According to Charles, had the marriage occurred, only then would there have been an offence whereby the couple could have been charged.
The couple was instead warned and released.
We feel that this would have further endangered us if we had not left when we did. We were very frightened. Some of these events may be a little out of sequence, but this was as we remember them to be.
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Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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