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Jamaica's gays flee homophobia, seek asylum in U.S.

From the time he was in grade school in his native Jamaica, Andrae Bent was the target of taunts and attacks.

A classmate once stabbed him near his eye with a pencil for being effeminate. Another time, a man pulled a knife on him and asked if he was "one of them," Bent said, meaning homosexual. Fearing for his life, Bent denied his homosexuality.

"I was called faggot, gay, batty man, chichi man," he said. "This would be from classmates, from people on the streets when I was walking home. Wherever I went in Jamaica, it was a nightmare."

Five months ago, Bent, now 24, won asylum in the United States on the grounds that he had credible fear of persecution as a gay man if he were to go back to Jamaica. He joined what has become a small wave of gay Jamaicans fleeing homophobia in the Caribbean nation.

Despite its image as a laid-back island paradise for American tourists, Jamaica still criminalizes sodomy and has long been regarded by human rights activists as virulently anti-gay.

The federal government doesn't track how many people are granted asylum on the basis of homophobia or what countries they are from. But of the 92 gays and lesbians who won asylum in 2010 with the help of Immigration Equality, an immigrant gay-rights group, 28 were from Jamaica - meaning that nearly a third were from a single country ranked 138th in world population.

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