What was supposed to be a fun evening for Stamatis Peramatzis, turned out to be a nightmare. As the 39-year-old was walking out of a parking lot together with his partner in an Athens mall, a man out of nowhere appeared and screamed: "Faggots, we will kick you out of Greece and you will never come back".
"I tried to ignore him, hoping he would just go away," Peramatzis recalls. "But he didn’t. He came back together with another guy, dressed in black, yelling they were going to teach us a lesson." But the two men were lucky. A security guard came to their rescue and the worst did not happen.
Peramatzis, who works for an international NGO in Athens, did not report the incident to the police. "My boyfriend was shocked and scared. We knew that the police would not do much to assist us".
Such is the new reality of being a gay in Greece today, where economic turmoil and a rise in national fervour has resulted in a spike in hate crimes against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT).
Last August, 25-year old Stefanos Agelastos, a science student and gay activist, was accompanying a friend to a bus stop when two men on a motorcycle asked them if they were gay. When Agelastos acknowledged he was, the men attacked them.
"Suddenly, they started punching and kicking us. We were shocked. I managed to grab my mobile phone and call the police."
Agelastos bitterly recalls that not one of the passersby came to their rescue. "People just ignored what was happening. Only a shop keeper from Pakistan and a drug user who was wandering in the street came to help". And though the young man reported the incident to the police, his assailants were never identified.
Although Greece has antidiscrimination laws protecting gays in employment, there are no hate crimes per se in its criminal code. Very few cases are being reported to the police because gay men and women fear further discrimination. At the same time the police remain poorly trained to handle increased homophobia and in most cases encourage the complainers to drop the charges.
Of four such cases filed since September in Athens, not a single case has been prosecuted.
"Homophobia is not something new. Greek society has always been profoundly conservative and oppressive," says Agelastos, who now lives in Spain with his partner. "Some years back, when I kissed my boyfriend in a public bus, passengers protested and verbally abused us."
This is not surprising. In 2003, a Greek television station was fined 100,000 euros for showing two men kissing, while in October this year, Greece’s national broadcaster E.R.T. cut a scene of a gay kiss from the evening British television series Downton Abbey.
"Before the financial crisis, people were tolerant as long as things were not visible. This tolerance was superficial. People were just too selfish," says Elena Diamantopoulou, an activist at Color Youth, a non-profit LGBT organization, adding that the root cause of discrimination is the lack of education. "There is no sex education in Greek schools and no discussion on sexual and gender identity."
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