“We are everywhere,” is the theme of this year’s Athens Pride, explained Stefanos, an organizer of Athens Pride. The main Pride poster features a nationwide symbol, the bottom half of a traditionally dressed Greece soldier, along with the Pride’s tagline. We’ve actually had quite a few complaints, he tells us – it’s quite a controversial cover. Stefanos goes on to explain that while many people in Greece might be comfortable thinking of homosexuals as hairdressers, or a very small minority of the population, the Athens Pride group is finding that people are getting a little threatened by the idea that they are ‘everywhere’, and this year the group has unfortunately received more negative comments and hate mail than ever before.
In the large meeting hall in the Athens Cultural Center, Stefanos sits down and talk with us before the start of the ‘SE European-Balkan Pride Conference’, a prelude to tomorrow’s Athens Pride march. This is the first year the conference is being held. The idea behind the conference is to encourage solidarity between the Balkan pride groups, so representatives from Zagreb Pride, Sofia Pride, Bucharest GayFest, Serbia Pride, Athens Pride, and a founder from the newly formed Cyprus LGBT group, gathered to participate. Also in attendance was a Greek member of the EU parliament and Debroha Lambillotte from ILGA.
The issue of the financial crisis couldn’t be avoided. It’s a complicated issue, maybe best illustrated when the Greek Politician spoke. Her initial statements were to the point that LGBT issues were a priority even during economic downturns, and that human rights in general were important at any moment in time. However, during the Q+A session after her speech, several of those in attendance began grilling her on the lack of progress made by Greece concerning HR equality for sexual minorities, in particular the lack of educational programs to teach about LGBT. Answering these questions, she couldn’t help making a plea concerning the difficulty of producing change at this time due in part by the economic crisis, and conservative members of government that did not feel this was a priority.
It was quite interesting listening to each festival organizer share videos and stories about the challenges of hosting their Prides in the Balkans. They all had tales of skinheads, religious protestor groups, and police officials that either wanted the Prides held in isolated locations and/or conducted at high speeds. However, there was also an underlying message of the progress being made to change attitudes. While it’s clear that it isn’t easy holding Prides in these countries, especially during the early years of each, there is also the consideration of what progress can be made if these types of events aren’t held … and the communities remain invisible and marginalized?!
Again, many thanks to the Athens Pride organizers for hosting the
First SE European-Balkan Pride Conference.