Children’s rights commissioner Despo Michaelidou on Tuesday blasted the education ministry after a line in a play with an LGBTI+ message was removed, calling it unacceptable and saying it should be reversed.

The line “can a boy love another boy and a girl love another girl?” in Around The World In 80 Days was cut from weekday shows, staged for schools.

Michaelidou’s censure of the education ministry came after strong condemnation from members of the public, acting groups and NGOs the previous day.

“It’s my view that the education ministry’s decision has serious consequences for the wellbeing of children,” she said, arguing that the line’s removal will send the wrong message to LGBTI+ students.

“It will make them vulnerable to bullying and social exclusion,” Michaelidou added.

The commissioner called on the education ministry’s special committee that approves theatrical productions for schools to reverse its decision to suggest THOC, staging the play, remove it.

She sought to soothe the fears expressed by some that young children may be harmed by exposure to issues which they are not yet mature enough to handle. Michaelidou cited the Venice Commission as stating that such arguments do not hold up.

She further stated that there is no evidence to support the claim of children being exposed to positive attitudes towards LGBTI+ people as causing harm.

“The exact opposite is true, it is towards the children’s benefit to be informed about sexuality and gender diversity,” Michaelidou said.

The commissioner also argued that the education ministry’s decision to remove the line goes against its own stated values of respecting diversity.

The move was also slammed by the Cyprus Theatre Organisation (Thoc), which called the committee an “instrument of censorship”.

The ministry reviewed the play following a complaint by a parent to a radio station in Greece, who claimed the play had homosexual references harmful to children, and showed a male character in high heels.

Performances for school audiences in Cyprus require approval from the ministry of education and Thoc agreed to cut the line, despite the disapproval of the play’s director, Marios Kakoullis, as well as the actors.

Thoc said: “On December 6, 2022, the committee head contacted the artistic director and asked him if the offending phrase was in the performance. The artistic director informed her that the original phrase had been replaced. However, the head of the committee insisted that, in her opinion, the alternative phrase used had the same meaning and asked for it to be removed immediately, otherwise she would proceed to withdraw the approval for the show.”

The text of the play will only be altered on weekdays for school performances, while the original play will still be performed to general audiences on Sundays.

The Cyprus actors’ union and worker’s union PEO also expressed strong objections to the ministry’s handling of the matter.

The actors’ union pointed out that the theatre world is one of “acceptance, love, respect, diversity and inclusion” and said it stands against any form of censorship in art and any form of violence and hatred.