Being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community is not easy. That’s a fact. Right now, in the 21st century, there are still 69 countries that have laws that criminalise homosexuality. In four countries being gay can even mean death on a completely legal basis (Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan).
Still, there are places in the world which are safer for this community than others. Generally European and American countries have the reputation of being more gay-friendly.
Greece between homophobia and acceptance
In my article I would like to focus on what it’s like to be gay in Greece, especially in Thessaloniki. Having only 48% of Greece’s population who say that homosexuality should be accepted by society, Greece is not the leader of the gay-friendly countries. Still, Greece is ahead of a lot of other countries like Turkey, Lithuania or Bulgaria.
”I used to work as a musician in an orchestra. Because of the fact that I am a part of the LGBT-Community I have been turned down from jobs. I had purple hair. They said that I ruined the image of the orchestra.”
Greece is one of the most popular LGBTQIA+ tourist destinations. Since 1951 male and female same-sex sexual activities are legal in Greece. Especially in Athens, Thessaloniki and some Greek islands the gay community is very active and dynamic. However, same-sex marriage is still illegal in Greece and joint adoption by same-sex couples is not allowed. Nevertheless, same-sex couples have the same residency rights as married opposite-sex couples under EU law and child adoption by single LGBT individuals and foster care by same-sex couples is allowed.
Interview with two gay men from Thessaloniki
To get a better image of what it’s like to be gay in Thessaloniki, I talked to two gay men living here: Panos, a 34-year-old LGBT-activist and Nikos, a student from Thessaloniki. So is Greece a good option for gay people?
“[Greece is not great, but also not that bad for gay people.] In the past few years we have seen many things being corrected and these things have happened within a very small time zone. It all started back in 2015 when an Anti-discrimination law was introduced in Greece. This law had to pass through many corrections to finally have a law that fully protects LGBT-people […]. The state provides many rights towards members of the LGBT-community. Civil union exists. Trans people can legally change their identities and their papers as long as they are not refugees. […] There are also other things being discussed such as blood donations, which have been recently allowed for gay men as well. Things are going better. At least in the law aspect. We still have to face the rising hatred among our society.”, says Panos.
Changes in the society
“[But] there is a lot of change. I was not able to experience the changes in certain aspects, like for example school, because I am not going to school anymore. But other people testify that things are going better. That teachers treat them better. That classmates don’t pick on them, they are not bullying them. At least not that much in most of the cases.”, he adds.
“I see that it’s getting better. Especially when I compare it to how it used to be when I found out that I am a part of this community [when I was 12]. There has been a growth in acceptance in society. In places like the university or where I work I realised that people are accepting. And if they are not accepting, they are willing to learn.”, sums up Nikos.
“I am very, very, very, very proud [of who I am]. I am so ashamed of the days in my life that I was feeling so bad about this. That I wished to not be gay. I am ashamed just for that. Not for ever being gay or for coming out or anything else. I am just ashamed of some dark moments I wished I wasn’t gay. Just for that.”, states Panos.
Difficulties and hopes of two gay men living in Thessaloniki
”I feel like I am in a safe space.”
“On the other hand I faced a lot of discrimination and difficulties. I could not meet other gay people or other LGBT-people, because most people around me were probably closeted and I didn’t want to out them. […] Since I was 13 years old, people started calling me things. Probably even before, I just couldn’t understand it. These things haven’t changed. 20 years have passed and these words are still the same. After a certain point they are just words.
When straight people ask me if stupid stereotypes are true, I am just like: ”Oh yeah, of course! We chase men around because that’s what we do.”. […] People stereotype you about everything. Not just for being gay, for everything! After a certain point I like to make fun of stereotypes. I am having a lot of fun with being as much of a stereotype as I can.”, adds Panos.
Additionally he states: “To me ”coming out“ is probably the most important political stand a gay person can make. This way you acknowledge your existence within a community, within a society. I mean you exist before coming out but your existence is covered by a curtain of lies and secrecy and darkness. Why shouldn’t we all be out? […] By coming out as gay you don’t just come out as a different sexual orientation, you come out as a second class citizen, which is very important for people to understand. […] “
Thessaloniki as a city for the LGBT-community
Speaking about the city Thessaloniki as a city for gay people Panos says: “[…] in cities like Thessaloniki, which is a big and small city in the same time, queer people can find each other and can form pocket communities of their own and feel a certain amount of safety walking down the street. I would say that 10 years ago I would never dare to go out with painted nails, because I knew what would happen. Today I am not even thinking about it. If someone looks at me the wrong way, I don’t care.”
Furthermore, Nikos adds: “But like always there are people who are not willing to learn. Some people are so deep in their close-mindedness that they really don’t want to find out anything about us. These people are not a majority, but there are a lot of them here. And they ”infect” the people around them with their close-mindedness. It’s hard to teach all of them. Sometimes I am just tired of saying the same things over and over again. I feel like that’s something that they should already know.”
The great solution
“Activism is the solution. We people are the solution. We need to start pushing and keep pushing and never stop pushing. […] People need to push the government to vote laws. People need to push ideas into people’s minds, into schools, into universities, into families. That’s how we make the world move forward.”, says Panos and sums everything up perfectly.
Furthermore he adds: “Most of all we have to focus on the newer generations. This will be the answer. This will do the change. I don’t know if it’s gonna be in 20 , 50 or in 100 years from now. But someday we will remember this or they will remember this. Because will not be here. They will laugh. That’s a nice future to hope for.”
“So I refuse to give [other people] my power.
Its mine! I got it on my own!”