Greece urged to address anti-LGBTIQ+ discrimination and intolerance | Europe

Europe’s top human rights watchdog has urged Greece to take action against the “serious forms” of discrimination and intolerance faced by the country’s LGBTIQ+ community, especially children in schools.

Equality rights for intersex people often subject to sex “normalising” surgery at a young age must also be enhanced, according to a report released on Thursday by the Council of Europe.

“Training should be introduced for teachers on how to address LGBTI-phobic intolerance and discrimination in schools while promoting understanding of and respect for LGBTI pupils,” it said. “As a matter of priority the authorities [should] take action to prevent intolerance and discrimination against intersex persons, in particular children.”

Drawn up by the watchdog’s specialist body on racism and intolerance, known as ECRI, the report called for specific legislation to prohibit what it described as medically unnecessary sex “normalising” surgery and other non-therapeutic treatments “until such time as the intersex child is able to participate in the decision, based on the right to self-determination and on the principle of free and informed consent”.

Singling out medical professionals who recommended abortion of intersex children to expecting parents, ECRI said it was vital that teachers and healthcare providers were given guidelines on intersex equality rights.

“These efforts should include the preparation and production of further appropriate teaching materials and the establishing of school policies to prevent, monitor and respond to LGBTI-phobic incidents, including bullying,” the report’s authors wrote.

Greece has made strides in recent years to improve minority rights. In the nearly six years that had elapsed since ECRI’s last assessment, it was noted that good practices had been made in a number of fields.

The centre-right Greek government, following groundbreaking legislation implemented by its leftwing predecessor – including civil unions for same-sex couples – had unveiled a 2021-25 national strategy for LGBTQI+ equality and, for the first time, placed openly gay individuals in official posts.

“A further welcome step towards such equality is the inclusion of transgender persons in the Greek Manpower Employment Organisation’s (OAED) programmes for providing work for members of vulnerable groups,” the watchdog said. Similarly, a national action plan against racism and intolerance was adopted in 2020.

But in one of Europe’s most socially conservative societies, the Mediterranean nation has faced criticism for its failure to properly implement policies and root out deep-seated homophobia espoused by leading members of the Greek Orthodox church. Bishops have publicly denounced homosexuality as a crime.

The killing of Zak Kostopoulos, a gay activist and drag performer, in broad daylight in Athens four years ago, did much to highlight a culture of abuse and impunity in the country’s police force. Amnesty International, which has previously accused Greek authorities of failing to properly protect LGBTQI+ people, described Kostopoulos’s death as an “assassination”, saying the victim and his family had been the targets of “stigmatisation, prejudice and hateful rhetoric” even after the brutal killing.

Protesters marking the anniversary marched through Athens late on Wednesday amid cries for justice to be meted out, after a controversial court decision to exonerate four police officers accused of causing fatal bodily harm.

In its most recent report, ECRI also underlined the worrying hate speech directed at refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and members of the Roma and LGBTQI+ communities in Greece, pointing out that politicians and even state officials indulged in discriminatory rhetoric that had no place in civil society. As such, it said, it was crucial that the Greek ombudsman, the country’s only recognised equality body, was allowed to provide aid and representation to victims of discrimination and intolerance in court.

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