15/02/2012 | Writer: Kaos GL
As an activist organization, Athens Pride tries to provoke society, or at least make people think.
“Being Unnecessarily ‘Provocative’ by ‘Defaming’ ‘Sacred’ Symbols”
By Andrea Gilbert
Athens Pride Organizing Committee, InterPride Region 15 Director, Greece
All forms of homophobia impact negatively on the everyday lives of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender persons. For the most part, Greek popular and institutional homophobia is expressed in hypocrisy. When compared the violent manifestations in the surrounding region, this may seem like a minor issue -a problem of “luxury,” as it were. However, this deeply entrenched hypocrisy itself a form of oppression, violence and abuse. It creates a veneer of just enough false tolerance to make everyone believe that everything is all right, and perpetuate the status quo. It constructs a closet so fortified that most Greek gays and lesbians not only accept this situation as a normal way of life but actually believe that it is a satisfying existence from which they are reluctant to emerge. Coming out to one’s immediate family and acquaintances can pose an insurmountable challenge. And although there is legal protection of sexual orientation (but not gender identity) in the workplace, few LGBT persons are willing to disclose to their employers or co-workers.
Very few urban Greeks will admit to being homophobic or believe that they are, as evidenced in a poll conducted on Athens’ busiest shopping street by the Colour Youth group this past May 17th. Passersby were asked what they would do if they discovered that someone close to them was gay, lesbian or transgender. On face value the responses seem positive or at least indifferent -people clearly wanted to appear open-minded. But closer analysis betrays their fundamental contempt, misconceptions and fears, which are verified by Colour Youth members’ personal accounts of parental brutality and schoolroom bullying.
The “violence of the closet” is also manifest in the way in which gays and lesbians and their families deal with hate crimes. That is, they don’t deal with them at all. No one has any idea of the number of violent attacks –mostly on young gay men in the club district of Athens– simply because they go unreported. The victims are reluctant or terrified to report the incidents because it would mean coming out to their families, and potentially humiliating themselves before the police –not to mention a public disclosure in a court of law if the perpetrator happened to be caught. However, and more importantly, even if the victim were bold enough to press charges, the case would be handled as an ordinary assault because there is no provision in Greek law for any hate crime, much less on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In actuality, there is very little to legally protect LGBTQI persons against hate speech and incitement to violence. This legislative deficit has allowed a self-proclaimed neo-fascist lawyer, orally in a Greek courtroom and before the Bar Association, and in writing to the Office of the Prosecutor, to personally call me, with total impunity, an “antisocial element,” “mentally disturbed” and a “sexual deviant” because I’m a lesbian, and to claim that I am also a perjurer because, “a woman who does not respect her nature cannot possibly respect the truth.” But activists have not let this pass in silence: a landmark class-action suit against this lawyer for defamation was scheduled for trial in September 2011. A second suit on the same charges has been brought by me individually; we are awaiting notification of a trial date before the end of 2011. These will be the first trials of their kind in Greece.
In other legislative matters: A final judicial decision in a court in the competent Prefecture of Rhodes has recently been handed down, annulling the two same-sex marriages that were performed by the Mayor of Tilos Island in June 2008. The two couples plan to take the case to the Greek Supreme Court. Also, despite requests for proposals and promises from the ruling PASOK Party in 2010, the LGBTQI community of Greece is still waiting (since 2008) for the current unconstitutional draft legislation on Domestic Partnerships to be extended to include same-sex couples. A recent letter by three NGOs addressed to former Prime Minister George Papandreou, the Minister of Justice, and other political parties demanding accountability for the delay the silence has been answered by PASOK with the inexcusable excuse of the government’s current absorption with the financial crisis. In other words, human rights are ignored in times of economic difficulty.
However, on a positive note: Athens Pride, which took place this year on June 4th under very difficult social, political and economic conditions, continues to grow. Despite a rainstorm and civil unrest on our parade route, a record 10,000 participated in the Athens Pride Parade. Many of the ever increasing numbers of our young attendees and volunteers cite that the experience changed their lives, giving them the courage to accept and disclose their sexuality. Following Athens Pride 2010, several volunteers founded the Colour Youth group, Greece’s first registered association for LGBTQI people under the age of 30.
As an activist organization, Athens Pride tries to provoke society, or at least make people think. Our 2010 poster featured Greece’s foremost nationalistic symbol, the Evzone Guard, stationed in front of Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The photograph was overprinted with the words “gays, lesbians, bis and trans” and that year’s slogan, “We Are Everywhere”. The idea that this embodiment of Hellenic manhood, bravery in the battle for Greek independence, and national pride could be usurped by “perverts” and “fags” produced unprecedented venom and threats of violence (which fortunately remained in words) from every reactionary and religious front. This was to be expected. But even more revealing were the negative reactions from society’s more moderate elements, who accused us of being unnecessarily “provocative” by “defaming” this “sacred” symbol. Of course, no one objects when waiters dress up in this costume to sell lamb chops! This same rancor was voiced in 2008 against our official logo –a representation of the Parthenon dressed in rainbow colors. So, apparently, Greek Queers are not permitted to be “real” Greeks, with equal rights to the national symbols of Hellas.
This year our slogan was “Kiss Me Everywhere” –referring to kissing everywhere on the body as well as kissing in plain sight, everywhere that heterosexual couples are free to kiss, but LGBTQ persons are not. It was inspired by the recent censorship of two popular music videos by two TV channels that cater to a youthful audience. This was only the most recent instance of same-sex kissing censorship in the performing arts. The channels justified their self-censorship as fear of the Greek National Council for Radio and Television (ESR). This independent, seven-member body appointed by the Greek Parliament has the authority to levy enormous fines for whatever they consider improper or obscene. This can be anything from a same-sex kiss in a TV serial to the dignified presentation of transgendered guest on an afternoon talk show. On the other hand, the ESR rarely censures violence and graphic heterosexual sex, and never objects to degrading and stereotypical depictions of LGBT persons. So something as ordinary and as natural as a kiss is also the measure of equal rights in Greek society.
And finally, a footnote to our campaign: On May 25th Athens Pride requested a formal hearing with the ESR to question these policies –a legitimate right and procedure. The Council convened on June 7th, when our request was introduced. Despite the fact that the date was well within the required deadline, their written response was simply: “The Council has shelved the case because the Council did not meet until today (7 June) and the request has become obsolete.”