Exclusive: UK government minister challenged Jamaican PM about homophobia

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A British minister raised the issue of decriminalisation of homosexual acts at a recent meeting with the Prime Minister of Jamaica.

Gareth Thomas, minister of state at the Department for International Development, told PinkNews.co.uk that tackling state and cultural homophobia is vital to the fight against HIV in the Caribbean.

He said he was concerned that “things are not getting better on either front, and more change is necessary.”

His role at DFID has responsibility for HIV and Mr Thomas has visited the Caribbean several times.

“During those visits I have been struck by the extent to which homophobia and the anti-gay legislation is impacting the effort to fight the surge of HIV infections,” he said.

During a recent meeting with Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Trade Minister, Mr Thomas raised the issue head on.

“We had an acknowledgment there was an issue, though there was not a conversation about immediate next steps,” he said.

Mr Thomas also met with members of Jamaica’s gay community and said he was shocked by their experiences.

“Some of their stories are horrific,” he told PinkNews.co.uk.

“People who have been forced out of churches, out of their jobs and on occasion, violence.

“By any stretch of the imagination it is a disgrace and we need the state to take action.”

The minister, who has been an MP since 1997, said the UK asylum system would look at gay and lesbian asylum seekers on a case by case basis.

A survey published in Jamaica in June found that the Prime Minister’s stridently anti-gay statements have boosted his popularity.

45 percent of people in a poll commissioned by the Jamaica Gleaner said that they are more likely to vote for incumbent Prime Minister Bruce Golding and his Jamaica Labour Party after he told the BBC that he would never allow gays in his Cabinet.

26 percent of people who identified as supporters of the rival People’s National Party said they were more likely to vote for Golding after his outburst.

Just 5 percent said they were less likely to vote for him after his widely-reported comments.

70% of Jamaicans do not believe that gay men and lesbians should be granted equal rights, the island-wide poll found.

The dancehall music scene on the island is notorious for its homophobia, with many artists taking pleasure in calling for gays and lesbians to be murdered.

That widespread hatred is evident in the wider culture, with reports of gay men and lesbians being attacked by gangs and murdered.

In February this year an attack on a group of men alleged to be homosexual left one man seriously injured and another missing feared dead.

International human rights organisations have described Jamaica as one of the most homophobic places in the world.

Mr Thomas said the only way to make any progress was to engage with government and wider community and make the case for a more tolerant attitude on both human rights and HIV prevention grounds.