It is a matter of concern that nearly half of young Cypriot teenage students disguise being LGBTI at school, the European commissioner for equality Helena Dalli said on Thursday as she visited Cyprus for the IDAHOT+ Forum, the main annual European LGBTI+ event.

“Everybody in the EU should feel safe and free to be who they are at all times,” the EU commissioner said, calling on stakeholders to act on the issue.

“The current top priority for Cyprus is the adoption of its draft national action plan and make sure to deliver change on the ground,” she said.

Dalli was in Limassol for the European IDAHOT+ Forum, co-hosted by the governments of Cyprus and the United Kingdom. The IDAHOT+ Forum is a major European level annual event organised by the European Network of LGBTI Governmental Focal Points (EFPN), coordinated by the Council of Europe, to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Interphobia on May 17.

This year’s forum has a focus on the “unprecedented and unjustified act of aggression from Russia on the European continent”, an announcement by the European Commission said, adding that the equality commissioner will speak at the high-level discussion on ‘War in Ukraine: Challenges to our Common European Values Through the Experiences of LGBTI+ People’.

“The invasion of Ukraine brought heightened risks of violence and discrimination against LGBTIQ people both within Ukraine and in the countries where they are received as refugees,” Dalli said.

“The EU must go above and beyond in ensuring that everyone is treated fairly and with respect, regardless of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, age, disability or sexual orientation.”

Meanwhile, the roles of different sectors in ending conversion therapy, which remains legal in Cyprus, the benefits of LGBT+ inclusion in businesses and ways to tackle gender attacks are also on the forum’s agenda.

The commissioner was expected to meet Justice Minister Stephie Dracou, Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou, as well as House president Annita Demetriou, to discuss how Cyprus can contribute to EU action on LGBTIQ equality, especially through the adoption of a national strategy stemming from the EU LGBTIQ Equality Strategy.

Apart from the overall strategy, they will discuss equality in education, legal gender recognition for trans and non-binary persons, and access to medical and pharmaceutical care for trans, non-binary and intersex people.

As is customary, the EU commissioner will give due time and attention to dialogue with civil society organisations. Commissioner Dalli will meet with the Cypriot LGBTQIΑ+ organisation Accept. The discussion will cover education issues on LGBTQIA+ rights, inclusive sex education, civil marriage and parental recognition as well as the draft legal gender recognition law.