Concerted efforts are underway in Paphos to offer support to the LGBT community and include monthly Rainbow meetings, which are proving successful.
Free, rapid HIV testing will is being offered in Paphos as part of a Cyprus wide initiative to mark World Aids Day.
Co-ordinated by Paphos resident, equal rights activist, South African Cypriot, Zac Theophanous, 39, the monthly meetings have mushroomed from five participants at the first one held in June, to around twenty five in November.
“After we raised the rainbow flag for the first time at Paphos town hall in June, I decided that I wanted to start Rainbow meetings in Paphos, to support the LGBT community,” he said.
The hoisting of the flag came just ahead of the Cyprus Pride Parade which was held in Nicosia.
“People can come to the meetings and talk in a closed, environment and feel safe they are not judged, or looked down on in any way,” he said
Meetings are held at the Cyprus Youth Board next to Arsos Park in Paphos Old Town and all age groups and nationalities are welcome, however, attendees must be aged over 18 years. Participants under the age of 18 must have a consent form signed by a parent, he added, although helpful telephone numbers may be given out over the phone, he said.
“At the moment our group consists of people aged 18 to 52,” he said.
The meeting also welcomes ‘straight’ people who support the LGBT community, including parents of LGBT children, he said.
Rainbow meetings have been held in Cyprus since 2010, when they first took place in Nicosia, according to Accept LGBT head Costas Gavrielides. They are also held in Limassol and now in Paphos, he said.
“We were surprised at how successful the Paphos meetings have been and we are looking at ways to further promote LGBT issues,” he said.
As the first registered group on the island to give a voice to this community, he noted that their aim is to try to boost local communities to react locally.
Gavrielides, who has headed up the initiative for around five and a half years, said that more needs to be done to investigate instances of homophobic rhetoric, which can incite violence and hatred against a community.
“For example, the attorney general has yet to follow up on our request to investigate the Archbishops’ comments last year and this year about gay people,” he said.
On Monday December 4 a ‘CYCheckpoint’ took place at ‘Let them eat cake’ in Paphos offering free testing for HIV by the AIDS Solidarity Movement, said Theophanous.
Tests are carried out for free and anonymously and results are given in a couple of minutes, he said.
“This is an indication only, and there will be people on hand to help for anyone that tests positive.
Free condoms will also be handed out.
Gavrielides said that it is important to get tested and that unfortunately there has been a recent increase in Cyprus in HIV affecting same sex couples.
“It is important to educate people on how to protect themselves and maybe because it is not a death sentence anymore due to medication, the message doesn’t seem as important. But that is not a desirable outcome.”
Data showed 66 new recorded cases of HIV infections in Cyprus between January and October 2016, adding to an increasing trend in the last two years.
Health authorities saw 80 cases reported in 2015 compared with 41 in 2010. “The highest number are in male same sex couples,” he said.
He added that more education is still needed in this sphere and yet the state is not doing much and reducing funds for HIV education, which leaves the NGO’s to pick up the slack.
Head coordinator of the Rainbow meetings, Alexandros Efstathiou, said that his aim is to encourage more people to attend the meetings.
He noted that on December 13, an HIV positive man will speak at an interactive Rainbow meeting in Nicosia.
“He contracted HIV in Cyprus and lives in the US but returns every year for a couple of months to help with the work of Aids Solidarity and to highlight issues relating to HIV and AIDS,” he said. He will be able to answer any questions and give an insight into living as an HIV positive person.”
Theophanous stressed that the meetings are held in a protected, closed and friendly environment.
“We are all warm and welcoming and non- judgemental,” he said.
For further information: Accept 99812343