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Friday 17 May 2013

LGBT rights in Greece: one new case of State censorship and discrimination

Posted by @IrateGreek

The Athens Pride denounced on Thursday 16 May the decision by the National Council for Radio & Television to ban all Athens Pride publicity spots until the plenary session of the Council can discuss the appropriateness of their broadcast. The reason for given by the Council is the fact that the spots include a lesbian kiss.

This is the second such incident of censorship and discrimination against the LGBT community on Greek media in recent months. In October 2012, State TV channel NET had chosen to edit a kiss between two men out of a episode of Downton Abbey. After viewers reacted angrily on social media, most importantly on Twitter with the hashtag #puritaNET, the channel's director Kostas Spyropoulos had argued that the scene was cut because of the time of the broadcast and the "suitable for all" rating of the show, whereas late-night re-runs would include the scene - ignoring a 2003 ruling by the Council of State which condemned the Council's decision to censor a gay kiss scene on Mega TV channel.

This development came one day before the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia and the publication of IGAL-Europe's 2013 Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People in Europe. Greece ranks 25th among 49 European countries in terms of securing and protecting the legal human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people, with the following remarks on specific areas of interest (quoted from the report):

  • Bias motivated violence: In October, the Gay and Lesbian Community of Greece (OLKE) recorded six homophobic attacks perpetrated by extreme-right groups and which were reported to the police. Peter Sapountzakis, one of the victims, is an LGBT activist working in the area of homophobia and education. It is reported that the number of homophobic attacks is on the rise due to the increasing social presence of far-right groups, including Golden Dawn, which results in a higher level of hate violence. In November, 12 men physically assaulted a group of volunteers distributing anti-homophobic flyers in Athens. The victims were chased in the street. The Racist Violence Recording Network, an initiative of the National Commission for Human Rights, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Greece, and 18 NGOs, claimed that far-right groups such as the Golden Dawn party are spreading hatred against the LGBTI community. [Editor's note: evidence of this can be found in this recent, vociferously homophobic post uploaded onto the Golden Dawn website.]
  • Equality and non-discrimination: In December, the Greek Transgender Support Association (GTSA) reported a case of transphobic harassment and discrimination. The victim, a 25-year-old trans woman, faced problems when trying to register as a student, and was then told not to come to the school but to sit the exams. GTSA reported that the school’s director also tried to intimidate her by using derogatory language and threats of physical violence. The victim was also subsequently harassed by other students.
  • Freedom of assembly: In June, the first Thessaloniki Pride took place in the country’s second largest city. However, the Pride Parade was not without incident, as some counter-demonstrators threw eggs and shouted hostile slogans at Parade participants. 
  • Freedom of expression: In addition to the case of Downton Abbey described above, in November, the Greek law on blasphemy was used to charge Laertis Vasiliou, the director of Corpus Christi, a play portraying Jesus Christ as a gay man. The lawsuit for “insulting religion” and “malicious blasphemy” had been lodged by an Orthodox bishop. A few days earlier, Vasiliou had already chosen to close his production, after it had been subject to protest, in particular from the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which participated in violent demonstrations around the theatre, beating up audience members and journalists. Mr Vasiliou and his family also repeatedly received homophobic and racist threats, including through messages to her mobile and home phones. The following is a quote from one of the threats received: “You fucking Albanian, come out and we will bury you alive. We will take your head off. We will cut you in pieces.”
  • Police and law enforcement: In August, GTSA reported that the police had detained 25 trans women at the central police station of Athens, without sufficient explanation as to the reason for their detention. The 25 women were forced to undergo HIV tests. According to GTSA, the incident was also representative of problems relating to the protection of personal health data, since the Hellenic Data Protection Authority considered that the publication of the identities of HIV-positive people was not to be considered as a violation of personal data.
  • Public opinion: According to Eurobarometer 2012, 65% of Greeks believe sexual orientation discrimination is widespread. This is slightly above the EU27 average (46%). 64% believe gender identity discrimination is widespread. This is slightly above the EU27 average (45%). Greeks scored 4.5 on a scale from 1 (‘totally uncomfortable’) to 10 (‘totally comfortable’) when asked how comfortable they would feel with an LGB individual in the highest elected political position in their country. This is significantly below the EU27 average (6.6). Greeks scored 3.7 on a similar scale when asked about a transgender/transsexual person in the highest elected political position in their country. This is significantly below the EU27 average (5.7).

The Rainbow Europe Map, which is released together with IGAL's Annual Review, shows that LGBTI people are faring poorly in Greece but also neighbouring countries of the Balkans. The documentary Alternative Balkan Caravan, by filmmakers Lara Kristen, Alexia Kalaitzi and Theodora Malliarou, which deals with the life of homosexual, bisexual and transexual people in Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Turkey, is due to be released shortly. You can watch the extended trailer below and read the translation of the filmmakers' interview with Dimitra in Thessaloniki (starts at 10:05).

"When I was a teenager and I was involved with a guy, we would eye up girls together. He'd understood what I was but I hadn't understood myself yet. Then I started, when I came to Thessaloniki, I was always wondering about myself. It's absurd, because I was homophobic, I was this typical kid who, if you asked me about homosexuality, I'd condemn it vociferously, so that's the reason people say that the most vociferous homophobic people may be hiding something. Then I started being involved in relationships with girls, but I was very much afraid, I still felt that I didn't belong in this. Then, as time went by, I relaxed, I felt that I was expressing myself in these relationships, and I spent quite some time and thought and psychoanalysis to understand why I was this way. Was it because of my environment? Did something trigger it, should I look for stimuli? Was I born like this? In the end, I wasn't able to draw any conclusion and I stopped caring, because this is what I am, so finding the reasons may not be the most important thing.
We recently had a judicial victory, when Plevris was sentenced for homophobic comments. It's a start, but that has to do with how good your lawyer is, how many groups of people will busy themselves with these topics, because each individual homosexual cannot protect him/herself alone. That requires money and people who manage and support legal action."

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