During recent visit, Greek emigrant says Americans needed to boost attendance at fourth annual edition of small, grassroots parade
Athens Pride will stage its fourth annual gay Pride parade on June 7. And organizer Andrea Gilbert said this week she hopes some of her fellow Americans will make the trip to Greece to participate in the event.
Gilbert, an art critic and curator who has lived in Greece for almost 20 years, is one of only five people on the organizing committee for Athens’ 2008 Pride celebration. She was visiting friends in Dallas over the weekend during a business trip to the U.S. this month.
In a telephone interview on Monday, March 17, Gilbert said her adopted home is "a great place to visit, especially if you come during Athens Pride. … It’s a grassroots Pride event. It’s still small, too small. We really want to get our numbers up, and we would love to have some people from the U.S. help us do that."
Gilbert acknowledges that Greek society remains pretty homophobic, and that has impacted attendance at the Pride events.
A new draft law was recently announced in Parliament to legalize domestic partnerships. The catch, though, is that the domestic partnerships would be available only to heterosexual couples.
"It is a slap in the face [to the LGBT community], totally discriminatory," Gilbert said. "There is already every legal mechanism possible in Greece for supporting heterosexual unions of any kind. The only people asking for domestic partnerships were LGBT people."
Gilbert said some LGBT community leaders and allies say introducing domestic partnerships for straight couples is a way to ease tensions and open the door for same-sex partnerships a little further down the road.
"There are some powers in the community who say we will have domestic partnerships [for gay couples] within the year. I am not so sure about that," Gilbert continued. "They say this is a way of sliding us in through the side door. But I don’t want to be slipped in through the side door. … I am very resentful of that. I don’t want to be tolerated. I want to be accepted, with dignity."
Gilbert said that while Greece has "a long way to go" toward accepting LGBT people and offering its LGBT citizens equal rights, "on the other hand, it is a more tolerant society than in much of the United States."
She said, "Basically, in Greece, it is ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Nobody has much of a problem with gay people, unless it is their own son or daughter. It all goes back to the church, I think."
The church she references is the Greek Orthodox Church, an institution that wields great power in Greece and is, Gilbert said, "virulently homophobic." She said that even though the Greek Constitution calls for a separation of church and state, that same Constitution also "enshrines the church. It is a state religion."
But even the church’s influence on politics may be lessening, Gilbert said.
"The really bigoted, racist, anti-Semitic archbishop of the church died very recently," she said. "He was a very disruptive force. It thought he was a political leader. I believe the new archbishop will be more modest. At least, I hope so."
Gay Pride gatherings are not new in Athens, Gilbert said.
"In the ’90s, even in the ’80s, there were some Pride-type gatherings," she said. "But they were all at night. There was never really a public gathering with people getting out there in the light of day and risking other people seeing them."
But Athens Pride, "as a daylight parade through the center of town and through the main square and in front of Parliament," was first held in June 2005, Gilbert said.
She said that the first organizing committee included many more people than this year’s five-person team, and those first committee members "debated right up to the end" over whether the inaugural event would include an actual parade.
"We finally voted that we would have a parade, that we would make an announcement that anyone who wanted to be in the parade should gather [at a specific spot], and even if it was just 15 or 20 people, we would parade," Gilbert recalled.
But when the announcement was made and the banner unfurled to lead the march through the city, "about 500 people" lined up and followed it down the street.
"You just can’t imagine what that felt like, what it looked like," Gilbert said. "I was riding with a friend on her motorcycle, and we were at the front at first, but we waited and let the parade pass by and joined in at the end. When you looked ahead and saw just the great sea of people, when I saw how traffic stopped for us — you just can’t imagine what it was like.
"Here was the closeted, fearful community of people who had been wondering, ‘Do I dare come?’ ‘Should I wear a mask?’ ‘Will we be attacked?’ And then, all those people came and marched. Now, we want more people to come and be part of it all," she said.
Athens Pride this year will be held on June 7, beginning at noon in Klafthmonos Square, Gilbert said. The day starts with a festival featuring a variety of organizational booths and vendors and a stage with a variety of performers already scheduled to participate.
Entertainment so far includes the London band Glitter Bandits, a drag king, a drag queen and a Greek lesbian band.
Gilbert said organizers hope to add at least one more act to the bill.
At about 6:30 p.m., marchers will gather for the Pride parade. The parade usually draws between 800 and 1,000 participants and the route goes right through the middle of downtown Athens.
Then after the parade, the big party starts, Gilbert said, about 2,000 people usually attend.
"I know that sounds ridiculously low, compared to Pride events in other places. But for us it is a big deal," she said. "And we hope to see it continue to grow each year."
As an added incentive, Gilbert encouraged any Americans attending the event to come by the Athens Pride organizers’ booth at the festival to find her.
"I will be there, and I will be glad to visit with people. I would love for everyone to come say hello," she said.
For more information, go online to www.AthensPride.eu, or e-mail Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 21, 2008
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