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Cyprus

Book removal sparks LGBTQ+ rights debate

LGBT, contentious book, kindergarten, homosexuality, queer, hunters asociation

The recent controversy surrounding the removal of a book depicting families with same-sex parents from a nursery school in Cyprus has sparked a debate on the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ rights in the country’s education system.

The controversy started after a parent’s complaint at the nursery but gained public attention following a letter by the hunters’ group where they unleashed a torrent of homophobic comments.

The education ministry has distanced itself from the decision to remove the book, placing responsibility on the parents’ association of the nursery. This reaction sparked outrage from LGBTQIA+ rights groups, who demanded clarification from the education ministry regarding its stance on same-sex parents. They have also called on the ministry to address a long-standing issue of discrimination and intolerance toward LGBTQIA+ families.

Senior official of the education ministry Elena Papamichael said educators in Cypriot schools are properly trained and educated to handle controversial issues that arise in the context of politics, economics, society, and science. These include same-sex relationships and parenting.

“Controversial issues, whether we want it or not, enter the sphere of school life without us planning it. Just like in all societies and frameworks. The reason they provoke such intense emotions is the perspective from which we see them, which is based on different ideologies and experiences. For the ministry and the pedagogical institute, it is about creating a safe environment in the classroom so that the educator can teach or discuss controversial issues for students to judge.”

She added that: “Many times there is no answer, and that’s okay.”

Papamichael said the policy for teaching controversial issues is based on principles of the Council of Europe and literature on human rights.

“It sets as a basis for discussion respect for every individual and their family, so that each child feels respect and dignity in the classroom. The goal is to approach and discuss controversial issues as they are: difficult issues that each society is called upon to manage.”

The official’s public statements come after comments by the head of primary education Marios Stylianides on Tuesday who had announced the book was immediately withdrawn after it caused controversy.

Rainbow Families Cy, a rights group advocating for LGBTQIA+ families, condemned the comments made by Stylianides urging the government to acknowledge the existence and rights of Rainbow Families in Cyprus. They further emphasised that LGBTQIA+ individuals are citizens of the Republic of Cyprus and deserve to have their parental rights respected.

Accept LGBT+, another rights group, criticised the government’s handling of the situation, describing it as a failure to combat discrimination and hate speech effectively. They called for urgent action from the education ministry and the ombudswoman to protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals and families.

Responding to the accusations, the education ministry clarified that it did not initiate the removal of the book, stating that it was the decision of the parents’ association. In the statements, the ministry also reaffirmed their commitment to promoting inclusivity and diversity in education, emphasising the importance of responsible pedagogical approaches to controversial issues.

However, the issue of hate speech from the hunters’ group remains unaddressed. In their letter, signed by the president of the movement, Nikolas Prodromou, dated 19 February, there are references to homosexuals as “mentally disturbed people” and to “insidious attempts to psychologically degenerate children” with the book in question.

The relevant article of the law on hate speech states that a person who intentionally, publicly and in an offensive manner incites hatred directed against a group of persons identified on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity is guilty of the offence.

This incident is not an isolated one, as it follows a similar controversy involving the screening of a homophobic video during a religious education class earlier this year.

 

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