Cyprus pushes to ban gay conversion therapy amid exorcism claim

Cypriot lawmakers and activists are pushing to criminalize “gay conversion therapy” which has left members of the island’s LGBTQ+ community traumatized by “medieval” practices such as exorcisms.

A recent report by activist group Accept-LGBTI Cyprus interviewed around 100 people and revealed the extent of widely discredited practices that claim to be able to change sexual orientation or gender identity that are still practiced on the island. Mediterranean.

“A victim was forced by a priest to kneel before a statue of Jesus Christ and apologize for having sinned,” said Stefanos Evangelides, lawyer and member of Accept.

“Another was forced by an endocrinologist to take testosterone (male sex hormones) because the doctor said he was too effeminate.”

And yet another “was exorcised by a priest,” Evangelides added, noting that some people had attempted suicide following the so-called therapies.

The Cypriot Orthodox Church continues to wield considerable influence on the island, which joined the EU in 2004.

The Cypriot Orthodox Church continues to wield considerable influence on the island, which joined the EU in 2004 Photo: AFP / Yiannis Kourtoglou

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1998, but while same-sex civil unions are allowed, same-sex marriage is not.

“Protection of the rights of the LGBT community” only began to emerge about a decade after decriminalization, when Accept was created, said psychologist Margarita Kapsou, a founding member of the organization.

The campaigners’ report sparked an outcry and sparked discussion in parliament about the need for legislation to ban the practices.

A Communist Party lawmaker has submitted a bill that, if passed, would sentence those who perform conversion therapy to two years in prison, or three if the victim is a minor or deemed vulnerable.

“We must protect young people and adolescents from medieval, humiliating and illegal practices,” said lawmaker Giorgos Koukoumas.

In this file photo taken May 31, 2014, a protester holds a crucifix during an anti-gay pride demonstration in the southern part of Nicosia, the divided capital of Cyprus. In this file photo taken May 31, 2014, a protester holds a crucifix during an anti-gay pride demonstration in the southern part of Nicosia, the divided capital of Cyprus. Photo: AFP / Patrick BAZ

“Members of the LGBT community are not sick people who need treatment – and that’s also the message we want to send to society,” he added.

The debate comes as the UK government is also grappling with a proposed law that would make it illegal to provide conversion therapy to minors or non-consenting adults, but which campaigners say does not go far enough.

A UK government source said the legislation, first promised in 2018, would now cover “gay conversion therapy only, not trans(gender)”.

The UK government would like to limit any bans so that doctors can advise children who think they have gender dysphoria.

The Cyprus Psychiatric Association is among those backing calls for the criminalization of conversion therapy on the island.

Its chief, Lambros Samartzis, said his professional community was “in shock” following the publication of the report.

“Gender identity, sexual orientation…are not pathologies. It’s not a disease,” he said, pointing to the trauma associated with such practices.

Despite progress on gender issues, more legislation was needed to protect the LGBTQ+ community, said Costa Gavrielides, the Cypriot president’s diversity adviser.

“The bill can end discrimination,” he said, but noted that some taboos such as same-sex marriage and parenthood will still need to be addressed.

The influential Cypriot Orthodox Church has refused to be drawn into discussions, including on the issue of conversion therapy exorcism.

“It is incomprehensible that the Church is once again allowed to spread (to legislators) its well-known and very anti-Christian views on homosexuality and make Cyprus a laughing stock abroad,” the daily said. Cyprus Mail in an editorial.

A number of countries, including France, Germany and Malta and parts of Spain, have already criminalized the so-called therapy.

Supporters of Cyprus’ LGBTQ+ community hope Parliament will soon vote to end the practice.

“We need to be protected by laws in order to be integrated into society and enjoy the same rights as everyone else,” Evangelides said.

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