By Stefanos Evripidou
Gay activist Alecos Modinos, 81, was honoured last night at a special ceremony in Nicosia for his pioneering work in safeguarding the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people.
Modinos, an architect, founded a movement for gay rights in 1979, and almost single-handedly forced the state to decriminalise homosexuality nearly two decades later. He campaigned hard in the late 1980s when world opinion linked homosexuality to the rise of AIDS and did a lot of work to raise awareness among Cypriot families, particularly those who had gay members.
Addressing the event, government spokesman Christos Stylianides said to Modinos: “Thank you for liberating us all.”
The antiquated charge of committing an unnatural act, a remnant of British colonial law and a euphemism for sodomy, remained part of the Cyprus Republic criminal code for 38 years after independence.
Cyprus decriminalised homosexuality in 1998 five years after Modinos won his battle against the state at the European Court of Human Rights but it took another two years to have deliberately offensive terms describing homosexual relations – ‘unnatural licentiousness’ – removed from the new legislation and then only under threat from Europe.
In 2002, parliament removed a further bone of contention, equalising the age of consent for heterosexuals and homosexuals to 17. Before that, heterosexual couples aged 16 and up were considered consenting adults while homosexuals had to wait until they were 18 to remain within the law.
Same-sex partners still have no legal rights in Cyprus while the debate on gay marriages has only just started to come out of the woodwork.
Last night’s event took place at Famagusta Gate on the occasion of Human Rights Day 2013, and was organised by civil society organisation Accept-LGBT Cyprus, the Ombudswoman’s Office, and the Offices of the European Parliament and European Commission in Cyprus.
The audience also heard a recorded message from Michael Cashman, MEP and Co-Chair of the Intergroup on LGBT Rights in the European Parliament while human rights lawyer Achilleas Demetriades gave a speech on Modinos’ achievements, after which a video showcasing his life and work was shown.