Athens Pride celebrates same-sex history of the Greek capital
Athens Pride 2018 is a week-long celebration of the Greek city’s same-sex history and will feature bike rides, street parties, parades and awareness seminars.Updated: Jun 04, 2018 12:31 IST
Outside a crumbling neoclassic building on a seedy Athens street, a tour guide marks the spot where one of Greece’s greatest writers Costas Tachtsis used to cruise in drag. A few blocks away, the English poet Lord Byron became infatuated with the 12-year-old daughter of his Greek landlady before succumbing to the charms of a French boy.
“In the 19th century, Greece was an exotic land full of eroticism,” tour guide Nicolaos Nicolaides, a historian by training, tells his group. “To European travellers, visiting ancient sites was more of an excuse. Erotic adventures was what they were really hoping for,” he adds with a laugh.
The walking tour through the capital’s same-sex landmarks is the inaugural event of Athens Pride 2018, held in the capital since 2005 but significantly expanded this year. Instead of a single day of events, this year’s roster is week-long and includes a bike ride, awareness seminars, street parties and performances, plus the customary parade through the city centre on June 9. Some 50,000 people participated in last year’s parade, compared to just 500 people in 2005.
“In 2005, our aim was just to attract people from the community, that’s how hesitant they were,” organiser Andrea Gilbert told a recent press conference on the event, hosted by the French embassy. “It’s very important for a young person to have one day per year when they can feel wonderful about being themselves,” she said. The celebration is held amid some important strides for LGBT rights in the country.
In 2015, the leftist-led government approved a law establishing the right to civil partnership for same-sex couples. In October, transgender persons were for the first time given the right to legally determine their chosen sex on official documents. And last month, parliament gave surrogate parental rights to couples in a same-sex civil union.
All have been landmark rulings in a country where homosexuality is taboo for most politicians and publicly opposed by the powerful Orthodox Church. Earlier this year, a prominent bishop went on trial after labelling gay people the “dregs of society” and called on his followers to “spit” on them. He was charged with public incitement to violence and abuse of ecclesiastical duties, but a court in his local diocese dropped the case.
In ancient times, notes Nicolaides, not only was “perfect love” that between two men, but Athenian democracy also owes a debt to two male lovers in the 6th century BC. Harmodius and Aristogeiton were worshipped as demigods in Athens after slaying the tyrant Hipparchus in an apparent personal dispute.
And while there is scant evidence to confirm the poet Sappho as a lesbian icon — a later product of Victorian times — homosexuality among men was an accepted part of life in antiquity before the rise of Christianity. However, Athens Pride spokesperson Raphael Bilidas insists that much remains to be done to combat homophobia in modern Greek society. “The ‘pride’ is an answer to what many people continue to say today, that we should be ashamed of ourselves,” he said. “As long as this mentality persists, we will not be equal,” Bilidas said.
As an example, he cited several families with a transgender parent. “If that parent wants to change their status to transgender, they must first divorce. There is no provision for transgender parenthood in marriage at present,” Bilidas said.
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