Sometimes “paved” with rose petals and glitter, other times with sorrow and anger, the Athenian streets have our own names engraved (Άλλοτε «στρωμένοι» με ροδοπέταλα και γκλίτερ, άλλοτε πάλι με θλίψη και οργή, οι αθηναϊκοί δρόμοι έχουν χαραγμένα και τα δικά μας ονόματα).
– Betty Vakalidou, a Greek trans woman, April 25, 1977.
Since the majority of English written trans history books and papers focus on the emergence of trans rights in the USA, I find this exploration extremely necessary in order to understand the wholeness of this movement but also its different, unique, cultural and social aspects. This point of view reminds me of the postcolonial feminist critique regarding the use of the term ‘woman’ as a depiction of a global sisterhood, of women as an identical category who fight the same patriarchal constraints. Like the term ‘woman’, so as the term ‘transgender’, feels like it needs to be deconstructed and constructed again following an intersectional approach by considering aspects like race, ethnicity, social class, besides gender identity.
Although globally the starting point of the LGBTQ+ movement is the Stonewall uprising on June 28, 1969, for Greece the starting point was the year 1976 during which the Liberation Movement of Homosexuals in Greece (Απελευθερωτικό Κίνημα Ομοφυλόφιλων Ελλάδας) was founded. It was just two years after the fall of the Military Junta and right into the beginning of Metapolitefsi. Although Metapolitefsi was considered an era of political, economical and social freedom, LGBTQ+ individuals remained to the margins, were constantly stigmatized and condemned by the state and its ‘democratic’ institutions. The infamous Law 1193/1981 seemed inspired by the previous authoritarian regime and was title “on venereal diseases and related issues”. It was submitted for a vote in the Parliament during the tenure of Konstantinos Karamanlis and essentially legitimized persecutions against prostituted women, homosexuals, and trans individuals.
“Every male shall be punished with imprisonment for up to one year if he is found in the streets, squares, public centers, or other places with an apparent intention to attract males for the commission of acts of indecency beyond his natural inclination” stated one of the provisions.
This Law led to a loud reaction by the Greek LGBTQ+ community, which held its first protest event on April 25, 1977, at the Luzitanian Theater. The main speaker was Betty Vakalidou, a significant for the movement trans woman. After this event and many more protest marches, the government withdrew the bill and this marked the first victory for the Greek LGBTQ+ movement.
History Box 101: The Greek Metapolitefsi.
A note on the term Metapolitefsi: it is important to use the Greek word ‘Metapolitefsi’ (Μεταπολίτευση = political transition) for this historical period because it encapsulates the unique historical and political context of Greece during that time.
Metapolitefsi may be one of the most important historical periods that changed the route of the Greek political, economical and social scene. This period starts after the fall of the Military Junta (1967 – 1974), which was characterized by authoritarian rule, censorship and the suppression of political dissent. A year after the pivotal, yet violent, student uprising at the Athens Polytechnic in November 1973, Greece abolished the monarchy and established a republican constitution. The restored democratic state was now ruled by one of the most important political families in Greece. Kontantinos Karamanlis, as the Prime Minister, marked the beginning of the transition period.
In 1975 Greece was established as a parliamentary republic state, after the adoption of a new constitution. Civil liberties, freedom of the press, rebuilding and strengthening of democratic institutions marked the Metapolitefsi era. In the elections of 1981 the other important political family was elected and the new Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou came into power. During his eight years service, Papandreou continued the Karamanlis’ work and Greece became a member of the European Economic Community (“Greece, politically, defensively, economically, culturally, belongs to the West”, declared Karamanlis in 1976). Greece’s accession to EEC was of great importance since the state witnessed significant improvements in infrastructure, education, healthcare and an increased urbanization and modernization.
What is important to be highlighted here is that Metapolitefsi was definitely not a smooth period for the country. The state faced many economic struggles, downturns and fiscal challenges. Nepotism, political instability, corruption and nationalism characterized the social and political Greek scene. For the (majority of the) Greek society, the doctrines “Greece-Greeks-Christians” (“Ελλάς-Ελλήνων-Χριστιανών) and “Homeland-Religion-Famliy” (Πατρίς-Θρησκεία-Οικογένεια”) established the identity of the ‘Greek’ and the ‘Other’. For the average Greek family back then the worst that could happen is their child to be atheist, communist or gay (poustis). If s/he was all of them, it was considered the greatest evil.
Metapolitefsi is considered to end with the 1989 political crisis.
Police persecutions, violence, and the pursuit of trans individuals continue unabated and on 1982 a trans woman named Sonia is being murdered by unknown people in the streets of Varkiza, in Athens. This event couldn’t remain silent and on March 10, 1983 a protest of around 100 trans persons is being held in Varkiza. Many more protests followed at the Athenian streets where the LGBTQ+ community fought for their rights and freedom. Another historical event was the protest in Omonia, Athens many years after the one in Varkiza. The Greek necropolitical realm strikes again with another murder on 2018. The well-known activist and drag queen (Zackie Oh) suffered a brutal beating from a jewelry store owner in Athens, and his accomplice when – it remains unknown why – he sought refuge in that particular store, where he became trapped and, under threat, attempted to exit by breaking the window. The additional violence and mistreatment inflicted on him by the police, even by paramedics who arrived, contributed to the fatal outcome from an ischemic episode, a consequence of multiple injuries. On September 26, 2018 the Athenian streets were filled with people fighting for the right of Zack Kostopoulos to life and the relentless transphobic violence that many trans people face in Greece.
Before we finish this short trans history in Greece it is crucial to highlight the groundbreaking publication of the homosexual magazine “AMFI” by the Liberation Movement of Homosexuals in Greece (Απελευθερωτικό Κίνημα Ομοφυλόφιλων Ελλάδας). This magazine started in the spring of 1978 and released a total of 25 issues. It served as a platform for the Greek LGBTQ+ community to destigmatize the homosexual, gay and trans identity. The work of the Liberation Movement of Homosexuals in Greece ended in 1987 and a year after the Greek Homosexual Community was established.
The first attempts to organize a type of Pride parade was during the 90s by the trans woman and activist Paola Revenioti. In 2009, Mina Orfanou a trans actress is the protagonist in the movie “A woman’s way” (Strella, Στρέλλα). This is a landmark movie for the trans visibility in the Greek art scene.
The more one is searching for the history of the LGBTQ+ movement in Greece, the more they will find. But one thing is for sure, many more steps need to be walked for the community in order to gain recognition, equality, and full acceptance in Greek society. Discrimination, social stigma, and legal inequalities persist in various forms. Marriage equality, adoption rights for same-sex couples, and comprehensive anti-discrimination laws are just a few of the areas where progress is needed.
Antonopoulos, Th. (2019, June 7). Από τα 70s μέχρι σήμερα: αυτοί είναι οι σημαντικότεροι σταθμοί του ΛΟΑΤΚΙ+ ακτιβισμού στην Ελλάδα. LiFO.gr. https://www.lifo.gr/lgbtqi/apo-ta-70s-mehri-simera-aytoi-einai-oi-simantikoteroi-stathmoi-toy-loatki-aktibismoy-stin
Kogiou, A. (2023, July 3). Α.Κ.Ο.Ε.: Η αφετηρία του ομοφυλοφιλικού κινήματος στην Ελλάδα | Phylis AUTh. https://phylis.gr/2023/07/03/a-k-o-e-i-afetiria-toy-omofylofilikoy-k/
Metapolitefsi. (n.d.). Metapolitefsi 1974 – 1989. http://metapolitefsi.com/