UK junior minister raps J'can DJs for anti-gay lyrics

ST KITTS - Britain's junior minister for international development Gareth Thomas lashed out yesterday against Jamaican dancehall DJs whose music has been blamed for promoting violence against gays, and urged regional governments to remove the buggery laws from their books. In a speech Monday night at a conference on reducing discrimination and stigma in the Caribbean against people with HIV/AIDS, Thomas had railed against the DJs who have been under attack from gay rights lobbyists in the United Kingdom and United States, and had specifically identified Jamaicans Buju Banton and Sizzla.\r\nHe repeated his position at a news conference yesterday when he branded the anti-gay lyrics as \"appalling\" and saying that it reinforced stereotypes against minorities, which sometimes lead to \"terrible attacks" against gay men.

"That language ought to be unacceptable," Thomas told journalists.\r\nHis comments came against the backdrop of conference discussions that stigma and discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS help to force people underground in a region with the world\'s second highest rate of infection.\r\nIt also came at a time when Jamaica is analysing a report by the US group Human Rights Watch, which claimed that gay men were routinely attacked in the island, "sometimes by the police", with little concern from the government. Such attacks helped to push HIV/AIDS among gays underground, Human Rights Watch claimed.\r\nThe Jamaican Government, however, rejected the assertion of systematic attacks on gays and that it turned a blind eye to such abuses.\r\nThomas had indirectly addressed the Jamaican issue in his Monday night speech, warning that there was a serious social cost to stigma and discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS and called on the government to address the issues.\r\n\"A good starting point for our conference is to accept that all of us, from whatever country of origin, have a role to overcome our cultural tendencies to discriminate and stigmatise,\" Thomas said.\r\nAction had to start at the top, Thomas suggested. \"We need to change legislation that legitimises stigma and discrimination and which in turn makes tackling AIDS more difficult, such as the legislation prohibiting sex between men,\" he said.\r\nThomas claimed that some artistes were "effectively contributing to the spread of HIV" by encouraging discrimination against people with AIDS, and "encouraging violence towards minority groups, such as men who have sex with men".

"These artistes include Buju Banton, Sizzla and others,\" he said. Added Thomas in Monday night\'s speech: "The use of phrases such as \'batty boys\' and \'queer\' is a cheap effort to gain notoriety and sell records. I believe in free speech, but nobody in a democracy should be able to incite violence against the minority."

At yesterday\'s press conference, he urged people in leadership to speak out against discrimination and to force artistes such as the dancehall DJs to take responsibility for the effects of their lyrics, and praised those Caribbean sports personalities and musicians who were involved in lifting the awareness of the problem of HIV/AIDS.\r\nWhile he would not ban the music of the controversial DJs who have been forced off several shows in North America and Europe by gay rights lobbyists, Thomas said, "I would encourage record companies whether they want to distribute their records\".\r\nOn the ticklish issue on removing the buggery laws in a Caribbean environment where anti-gay sentiment is often high, Thomas said it would not be his place to tell Caribbean leaders how to approach such matters. \"It is for politicians in the Caribbean to negotiate that space,\" he said.\r\n\