Since the Syriza Party electoral victory in January 2015 the country has gone through political, social and finial upheavals not seen in recent history. Strikes, protests, public demonstrations and financial brinksmanship have unsettled the usually staid culture in that ancient country where democracy was first invented. What does all this portend for the LGBT community in Greece?
Greek LGBT Citizens Experience Hope and Courage in the After Effects of the Dramatic Election of 2015
A 2015 story about LGBT Greece was published in Slate.com written by Liam Hoare titled ‘What Syriza’s Victory Means for LGBT Right in Greece’. Syriza is a left-wing political party in Greece, founded in 2004 as a coalition of left-wing and radical left parties. It is currently the largest party in the Hellenic Parliament, with party chairman Alexis Tsipras serving as Prime Minister of Greece.
What does all this portend for the LGBT community in Greece? The changes were soon evident: “In December of that year civil unions were legalized for same-sex couples, making households headed by same-sex couples eligible for many but not all legal protections available to married opposite-sex couples, making Greece the 26th European country to adopt similar laws,” wrote Liam Hoare.
In his report based on interviews with activists and parliament members he offered wide-ranging matters that touched on many facets of Greek culture and politics. Here are his main points:
1 An emerging new generation of LGBT youth have formed in Athens an organization for young LGBTQ Greeks. Called Colour Youth coalesced from many under-40s who wanted meaningful year round activities, not just a summer Pride festival; today, as a result of their actions and words there are more than 6 organizations for young LGBTQ people mainly in Thessaloniki and Patras. “It is a colorful company of friends with a sole aim to fight sexual discrimination and inform the LGBTQ community about it rights.”
2 This has led to increased visibility, especially for people based outside Athens and for trans people. These active groups feel empowered and proud enough for direct lobbying of left-wing political parties. LGBTQ issues are no longer invisible. “We want to erase homophobia and transphobia. We invite the public to focus on these problems and start acting,” they say on their website.
3 This increased visibility has placed LGBTQ rights on the public and political agendas. During the last parliament, after much debate filled with both rancor and advocacy sexual orientation and gender identity were eventually included in the definition of hate crimes.
4 As elsewhere in Europe, there was also consequent rise in resistance to LGBT rights, in homophobic violence from far-right factions as well as intolerant individuals. Although few in actual incidents, LGBTs were the second largest target group of attacks after immigrants; in addition there was an increase in homophobic rhetoric in the Greek Parliament. Penelope Kaouni, an activist with Color Youth said “We have to fight homophobia and transphobia in schools, in police, in justice, in the public sector, in parliament and in society in general.” More.
5 To gain a majority in parliament Syriza’s formed a coalition partnership with ANEL, (a right-wing populist-indpendence faction). This was worrisome to LGBT activists but Syriza assured voters “we will not retreat as far as basic human rights are concerned.” Contrary to the fears of some, the actual truth is that a higher percentage of independent ANEL MPs voted in favor of legalizing gay partnerships than liberal-conservative political party MPs.
6 MP Penelope Kaouni said “For the first time, we have a government that is aware of LGBT demands, what we consider our rights to be, and why it is wrong that we are unequal. After these elections, there is hope we can achieve a lot more.” (photo left, protest at parliament)
This major disruption of government as usual, previously much behind closed doors with one eye closed to corruption and privilege, has been necessary as well as trying for the general public not accustomed to change. The European Union has called for a halt to profligate spending, undeserved entitlements and widespread failure to pay taxes by the wealthy. As usual such stringent austerity fell heavily on the privileged and the working class who protested in the streets.
For the LGBT community, their issues might have been relegated to the third page of news reports were it not for a new generation of aggrieved youthful gay activists who have rallied the community to speak up and demand equal rights and a voice in their own destiny.
This debate is what appeared as headlines in the culture wars in Greece especially since the dramatic election of January 2015. But away from the noisy drama is a silent segment of society, middle-age and middle class LGBT whose lives have not been visibly or emotionally tormented by the political turmoil in Athens.
I have a native Greek friend who is a residential manager-owner named Antonis. Some of his friends are property owners, business owners, entrepreneurs and independent agents who weathered the political changes in a less disruptive manner.
I speak of Antonis more in the following story about Mykonos.
Finally We Depart
The sea slides under our ship as we pass the rocks and dirt of Aegean islands peeking above the waters’ face; we forget the majority of the earth’s mass is below the water’s surface like giant icebergs that exist mostly unseen, hardly known, invisible to the human eye. So the sun goes down on another colorful season on Mykonos with its beat and beauty, its pulse and night sounds, its human heat, colored lights and happy meetings; moving on. Sic transit gloria mundi—thus passes the glory of this world including this temporary erotic world. The shops and bars close as hormones flow to other venues far west and far south, indoors and less visible for the winter.
What was it that drew us hither? Sunshine? Serene quiet beaches? Party scene? My guess is that 90% of those images after the summer, remained just that—fantasies and imagination, pleasant and remote. Meanwhile the bakeries continue to sell their sweets to local residents long after the temperature cools. (Michael and Richard in Chora town, photo right)