For many gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans or queer (LGBTQ+) people, coming to terms with your gender or sexuality can be tough – especially when you feel you have little or no support from friends, family and the wider community. For those who are from the Cypriot diaspora, this can be even more challenging because of the importance that friends, family and the community play in our lives growing up, and later as adults.
As a community, we place a lot of value on respect. But hearing the word ‘poushti’ often thrown about a conversation like a cheap insult isn’t particularly respectful. I’ve found it challenging being comfortable as an openly LGBTQ+ in the diaspora Cypriot community, particularly when you add in the unwritten expectation that you will find a partner, get married and have kids, or that you will fit traditional roles for a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ in public life.
So recently, I sent out a survey to understand better the attitudes of the community, family and friends towards gay, lesbian, bi, trans and queer diaspora Cypriots. There were over 100 responses, mainly from the UK, but also as far and wide as South Africa, USA, Australia and New Zealand.
Less than half of LGBTQ+ diaspora Cypriots are ‘out’ to family and the wider community
The survey asked whether people thought the Cypriot diaspora community where they lived was more open-minded or more discriminatory towards gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer members. Three quarters (75%) of those who identify as LGBTQ+ said it was more discriminatory and unwelcoming, and even 53% of heterosexual diaspora Cypriots thought the same.
When it comes to being open about your sexuality – often known as ‘coming out’, of diaspora Cypriots who identify as LGBTQ+;
• 82% are ‘out’ to all or most of their friends,
• 47% are ‘out’ to all or most of their family,
• 29% are ‘out’ to all or most of the wider community.
People who identify as straight commented that the diaspora community is “judgemental”, “conservative,” “very homophobic” and with a “religion-based dislike of LGBTQ+.” Yet some straight people think that the community’s attitude to gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer diaspora Cypriots is “accepting,” as well as “welcoming, caring and open,” “when given the chance.”
Gay, lesbian, bi, trans and queer diaspora Cypriots described overwhelmingly negative perceptions of the diaspora community’s attitudes towards them. They described the attitudes of the community where they lived as “traditional”, “close-minded”, “would rather ignore the presence of,” or even “hostile” towards LGBTQ+ people. Several people noted that religion had a big impact on attitudes and others said that if they were ‘out’ that their family would “worry about the gossip of the community.”
All respondents said that there was a generational shift, suggesting that the younger generation are more open than the older generation towards LGBTQ+ diaspora Cypriots, although they said that “there is still room for improvement.”
So what now? This is a wakeup call that more must be done by the community and Cypriot families to open their arms, hearts and minds to gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans or queer diaspora Cypriots. It is particularly important for younger diaspora Cypriots or those who are not ‘out’ to know that if they identify as LGBTQ+, that that is ok and they will be accepted and loved for who they are.
Our community leaders need to reach out and take active steps to open up to LGBTQ+ diaspora Cypriots. And we as gay, lesbian, bi, trans and queer diaspora Cypriots need to organise, be more visible and more vocal. We need to be proud role models and support those who find it difficult to be open and proud about their sexual identity.
As a first small step, a few of us are organising a social meet up after work for gay, lesbian, bi, trans and queer diaspora Cypriots at 6pm, Tuesday 4th June, at The Yard (upstairs), in Soho, Central London. If you are interested, come along and meet other LGBTQ+ people like yourself. Let us know you’re coming, if you are interested or have questions, by contacting: LGBTQDiasporaCypriots@gmail.com or on Instagram @lgbtq_diaspora_cypriots