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12° Nicosia,
23 September, 2023
 
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Cracking down on 'Conversion Therapies': Parties' positions and ethical concerns unveiled

Proposed law on criminalizing harmful practices aimed at suppressing sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression heads to Parliament's plenary session

Pavlos Neophytos

Based on the voting patterns of the AKEL and DISY parliamentary groups thus far, it appears that the proposed law criminalizing "conversion therapies" will be presented to the Parliament's plenary session on Thursday, May 25th. These therapies refer to practices, techniques, or services aimed at suppressing or eliminating someone's sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The magnitude of this issue in Cyprus should not be underestimated, as highlighted during the eight sessions of the Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee where the matter has been under discussion for a year and a half. Disturbing reports have emerged, revealing instances where parents have sought psychiatric intervention to 'change' their children's sexual orientation, priests have performed exorcisms or recommended hormone therapy to LGBTQ+ individuals, and young people have even contemplated suicide due to pressure from their immediate surroundings to alter their sexual preferences.

It is worth noting that the discussion on "conversion therapies" was reopened by the Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee on Wednesday, May 17th. This came after the draft law proposed by AKEL was referred back to the committee for further consultation in the previous week's plenary session, owing to concerns raised by some MPs and their intention to propose amendments. Specifically, ELAM has suggested amendments that focus on allowing these treatments with the consent of the individual, as well as excluding priests from performing such acts and facing penalties outlined in the legislation. Sotiris Ioannou, an MP from the party, stated in an interview with ALFA that an amendment has already been submitted to incorporate the requirement of consent in these "treatments" in order to protect counselors from prosecution. He described the proposed law as "vague" and mentioned various stories heard during the committee sessions, such as chair bindings and exorcisms, expressing strong disagreement with such practices. Additionally, he emphasized their efforts to exempt priests from the law.

DISY is also against the amendments

It is worth mentioning that, besides the parliamentary group of AKEL, which has expressed its opposition to the aforementioned amendments, no other party has officially declared its stance so far. However, in an interview with SPOR FM, Fotini Tsiridou, the deputy chairwoman of the Legal Affairs Committee and a DISY MP, emphasized that the proposed amendments are not acceptable to their party either. Ms. Tsiridou stated, "I believe that everyone agrees to pass this bill, as long as there are adequate safeguards in place, and there are." She expressed optimism that the entire matter will be resolved on Thursday with the successful passage of the bill.

For the exemption of priests

In response, George Koukumas, an AKEL MP, emphasized the importance of not passing the amendments. He argued that these amendments would fundamentally alter the nature of the bill and are based on the assumption that "LGBTQ+ individuals need to be cured." Koukumas presented the situation as a choice between embracing scientific progress or reverting to outdated beliefs. Regarding the exemption of priests, he stated that during the discussions in the House Legal Affairs Committee, it was clarified that seeking advice from a priest regarding personal matters is not considered "conversion therapy" and should not be subject to prosecution. Similarly, Fotini Tsiridou, a DISY MP, expressed her belief that the exemption for priests is unnecessary, noting that priests themselves do not endorse such practices. She mentioned that a representative from the Holy Archdiocese of Cyprus, who attended the Legal Affairs Committee, did not support such interventions.

The proposed legislation, aimed at criminalizing "conversion therapies," includes the introduction of a new article into the Criminal Code. According to this article, the act of administering any form of such "therapy" would be subject to a prison sentence of up to 2 years. The penalty would increase to a maximum of 3 years if the treatment is applied to a minor or an individual in a vulnerable position due to illness, disability, mental condition, or a dependent or influential relationship. The same penalty would apply if a person refers another individual, for whom they hold legal guardianship, to undergo such practices.

Similar legislation has been enacted in several countries worldwide, including France, Canada, Brazil, Ecuador, Malta, Albania, and Germany. According to a United Nations survey, these discredited "therapies" have been practiced in over 100 countries, despite the lack of scientific evidence supporting the idea that sexual orientation can be changed. The UN has strongly condemned these pseudo-therapies and called on all nations to prohibit their use.

The stance of the Pancyprian Association of Psychotherapists

The Pancyprian Association of Psychotherapists has publicly voiced its opposition to the proposed exception of criminalizing such treatments when the individual consents. They emphasize that pseudo-conversion therapies:

- contradict the acknowledgment and reverence for the human right to individual sexual orientation on moral grounds.

- has been condemned by the European Parliament and numerous European countries and prominent professional organizations, such as the European Association of Psychotherapy who have criminalized it.

- disregard substantiated detrimental impacts on mental well-being, especially among children and adolescents, leading to exacerbated symptoms of depression and increased tendencies towards suicide.

"We would like to emphasize that 'consent' cannot justify the implementation of a 'treatment' that is deemed unnecessary and potentially harmful according to scientific research. Professionally and ethically, it is considered unacceptable and inappropriate, regardless of whether it is administered by clergy or any other professional. We also firmly believe that consent cannot validate any intervention when it is provided under mental pressure or coercion, as in such circumstances, individual autonomy is compromised. Furthermore, we assert that the inclusion of exceptions undermines the essence of the law, resulting in contradictions and rendering it 'ad absurdum.' Additionally, monitoring and enforcing such exceptions prove to be exceedingly challenging," stated the Association. 

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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Cyprus  |  LGBTQ+

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