After All, Homophobia is a Greek word!

Gay people admit fear in Greece

What was supposed to be a fun evening for Stamatis Peramatzis, turned out to be a nightmare. As the 39-year-old was walking out of a parking lot together with his partner in an Athens mall, a man out of nowhere appeared and screamed: “Faggots, we will kick you out of Greece and you will never come back”.

“I tried to ignore him, hoping he would just go away,” Peramatzis recalls. “But he didn’t. He came back together with another guy, dressed in black, yelling they were going to teach us a lesson.” But the two men were lucky. A security guard came to their rescue and the worst did not happen.

Peramatzis, who works for an international NGO in Athens, did not report the incident to the police. “My boyfriend was shocked and scared. We knew that the police would not do much to assist us”.

Such is the new reality of being gay in Greece today, where economic turmoil and a rise in national fervour has resulted in a spike in hate crimes against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT).

Last August, 25-year old Stefanos Agelastos, a science student and gay activist, was accompanying a friend to a bus stop when two men on a motorcycle asked them if they were gay. When Agelastos acknowledged he was, the men attacked them.

“Suddenly, they started punching and kicking us. We were shocked. I managed to grab my mobile phone and call the police.”

Agelastos bitterly recalls that not one of the passersby came to their rescue. “People just ignored what was happening. Only a shop keeper from Pakistan and a drug user who was wandering in the street came to help”. And though the young man reported the incident to the police, his assailants were never identified.

Although Greece has antidiscrimination laws protecting gays in employment, there are no hate crimes per se in its criminal code. Very few cases are being reported to the police because gay men and women fear further discrimination. At the same time the police remain poorly trained to handle increased homophobia and in most cases encourage the complainers to drop the charges. Of four such cases filed since September in Athens, not a single case has been prosecuted.

“Homophobia is not something new. Greek society has always been profoundly conservative and oppressive,” says Agelastos, who now lives in Spain with his partner. “Some years back, when I kissed my boyfriend in a public bus, passengers protested and verbally abused us.”

This is not surprising. In 2003, a Greek television station was fined 100,000 euros for showing two men kissing, while in October this year, Greece’s national broadcaster E.R.T. cut a scene of a gay kiss from the evening British television series Downton Abbey.

“Before the financial crisis, people were tolerant as long as things were not visible. This tolerance was superficial. People were just too selfish,” says Elena Diamantopoulou, an activist at Color Youth, a non-profit LGBT organization, adding that the root cause of discrimination is the lack of education. “There is no sex education in Greek schools and no discussion on sexual and gender identity.”

However, the situation has been aggravated with the financial crisis that has hit Greece hard over the last three years, activists say.

The official unemployment rate has reached 25%t and half of Greece’s youth are without work. Wages have fallen by a third since 2009 and more than three million live in this nation of 11 million with less than 300 euros per month, while prices in basic commodities have skyrocketed.

This increase in poverty and political instability has given rise to the far right Golden Dawn party which until recently had been largely obscure, winning 18 seats in last June’s parliamentary elections.

Legitimized by the media, Golden Dawn has since emerged as a ‘player’ in Greek politics by playing on real social anxieties and turning the country’s most vulnerable into scapegoats to the current crisis. After beating up immigrants-or anyone they presume not to be Greek-along with stepping up their presence on the streets, Golden Dawn MPs are now leading gangs of supporters to raid and smash migrants stalls in the local flea markets.

In October, supporters and MPs of Golden Dawn, attacked a theater showing Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi – a play depicting Jesus and his apostles as gay men in Texas – and forcing the show to be cancelled. As the actors cowered inside, calling frantically the police, one Golden Dawn MP was filmed outside, calling the actors “little faggots” and warning that “your time has come, you little whores”.

“Homophobic attacks have always existed in Greece. In most cases they go unreported, as there is a general fear of reporting them to the police,” says Andrea Gilbert, a spokesperson of the Athens Pride, a gay rights organization. “However over the last year there is a clear increase in antigay attacks. The perpetrators now act in seeming impunity and although we are not always able to name them as members of the Golden Dawn, their attacks follow the same patterns of the Golden Dawn’s attacks against migrants. These people hate migrants, gays, foreigners, women. They hate everyone”.

So bad is the current situation that some have equated the attacks as similar to what happened in the early days of the Nazi party in Germany, when fascist gangs of uniformed men openly attacked gays, Jews, and others deemed socially undesirable.

“People are afraid to go out anymore. They don’t dare hold hands in public. The attacks deprive them of basic human rights, such as freedom of expression or the right to walk freely in the streets,” says Gilbert.

Earlier in November, a gang of 12 men dressed in black who identified themselves as members of Golden Dawn physically attacked and chased volunteers distributing anti-hate flyers in Gazi, a gay-friendly area of Athens.

“How can we ask our volunteers to go out and distribute flyers to the public? How can we send a 19 or a 20-year-old, out in the streets to raise awareness only to be physically assaulted by a gang of Golden Dawn supporters?” asks Gilbert.

But what is even more worrying now is the escalation of the attacks. Since August, there have been at least two homophobic attacks per month – and those are only the ones officially reported, although activists believe this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Today, gangs riding motorbikes and dressed in black, often carrying knifes, patrol the gay-friendly areas of the Greek capital, verbally and physically attacking those they assume to be gay, although the Greek police is not reporting any official figures. “If we look at the big picture, these attacks do not come as a surprise. The whole attitude of the Greek state and Greek society is racist,” says Diamantopolou of Color Youth.

Only a few months ago, Greek authorities published photos and the personal data of HIV-positive sex workers, which resulted in a public outcry. The former Greek health minister Andreas Loverdos went so far as to propose the deportation of foreign sex workers with HIV saying that “the disease is transmitted from illegal immigrants to the Greek client, and consequently to the Greek family”.

But, despite rising levels of fear in Greece’s gay community, many remain resolute, noting that the recent attacks have actually made people more determined and unified.

“We will never abandon the fight and we will never leave the streets,” says Diamantopoulou. “I will be there each day distributing anti-hate flyers and raising awareness. We came a long way, and we won’t let a bunch of thugs intimidate us.”

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  1. Greek indifference and apathy will be the reason for the final Greek collapse into obscurity and history.

  2. I hate to admit it but homophobic and sexist attitudes are paramount in Greece. The situation was getting better for some time but now it is aggravated again mainly due to the Golden Dawn rise. “Progressive” people do not attack gay men or women but their stance is one of segregation. Which is worse? I don’t know.

  3. Are they the kind of men who fantasize about watching two women ? Or are they the kind of men who act aggressively in a way to reject or hide their own homosexuality ? In either case, I pity them.

  4. it wasn’t getting better disliking gays was part of their culture actually more disliking pervents anyways forcing someone to like someone is not progressive its funny its ok to mock Jesus and christens but if you mock homosexuals your evil

  5. Homo is Greek and Latin. In Latin it means man and in Greek it means same or similar. The homo in homosexual is Greek and the homo in homo sapiens is Latin. All of which is irrelevant since the term homosexual was first coined by Karl-Maria Kertbeny in 1869. Kertbeny thought we were part of nature and argued against anti-gay legislation in Prussia.

  6. We have our own “Golden Dawn” in the USA, we usually call it the ‘American Taliban’. It the conservative Christians (CCs) who believe the USA is a Christian country. When they have to power, they make laws to give themselves special rights and protections and get exempt from laws the rest of us in America have to abide by. I think they are the most dangerous type of people around, never doing any good for anyone but themselves, all the while saying they are persecuted for being Christians, and how they are the most patriotic Americans in the country. Yet, what was okay to them when GW Bush was president, all of a sudden in treasonous when Obama became president. This happened to Carter, a Democrat, and Bill Clinton, also a Democrat. These people like to use scare tactics, much like Hitler did, who also combined religion with politics, even though most Christians say he was an atheist. Well, than why do so many right wing conservative Christians use the same language as he did when demonized anyone, or any group of people. All one has to do, is read something Hitler stated, (he often said Christians, God, etc..) and replace whatever group or individual he was trying to demonize with some of today’s real victims in the USA: gays, woman, blacks, Muslims, Spanish, Mexican, Immigrants (legal or illegal) When my brothers would call me a “faggot” when we were young, id say “Faggot is a bundle of sticks and that’s nature, and nature is nice”. I know, not very creative, but I was a pre-teen. (Today I would just punch them in the face and make sure they stay on the ground for a while…lol) Along with demonizing all other political ideologies other than un-regulated capitalism, these CC’s, they like to lie about what these other ideologies really are, and forget to mention that they benefit the most, more than all others in the country. It is a known fact, in the USA, the more “red” a state is, the more conservative and the more populated with CCs. Yet, they pay less taxes than those in the “blue” states, considered “liberal”. Also, they get more back from the USGov than other states. So while they complain about “socialism” and the “redistribution of wealth” they are actually the ones guilty of this practice. And the group that wants to secede, or leave the USA, becoming their own nation, are mostly “red” states, who actually couldn’t live with out the help from the USGov and the “blue” states. One thing I always tell others to keep in mind; it seems the more Secular a country is, the happier and healthier the people who live there are. Isn’t that something you would think, would be more observed and followed? But we all know, the USA isn’t really for “We the People”. Since our beginning, the CCs, they were Pilgrims/Puritans, there have always been those in power who abuse all minorities, by laws and violence. It seems our country and many others have one-side that claims to be patriotic who want to become all-powerful and another side that really want to help the people. I’m not saying all Democrats are in that second group by the way. This is why I always support separation of church and state, donating to organizations that actually take CCs to court and monitor their behavior. I hope you have similar groups in Greece. Oh, and I didn’t know “homophobia” was a Greek word. Can’t wait to tell those CCs who want only English spoken in the USA. One last thing, just read an article, our “Associated Press” has issues with the word “homophobia”: The AP Won’t Let You Call ‘Homophobia’ Homophobia

  7. Russia is worse and is a superpower that doesn’t look like it will be falling soon. So is China, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey etc….and all these countries have many more thousand years of civilization than what USA, England and other countries have, and it doesnt look like they will be falling any time soon.