A violent arson attack may have intimidated most people to lay low and not draw attention to themselves.
But not Greece’s LGBTI community.
Just hours after arsonists targeted a major HIV testing center, the center resumed providing tests for people in Athens.
Arsonists climbed to the first floor balcony entrance of Checkpoint. Positive Voice and AHF Europe (AIDS Healthcare Foundation) run Checkpoint, a HIV testing service. The arsonists doused its offices with gasoline before setting fire to them. The fire destroyed everything except HIV testing kits and condoms were locked in a separate warehouse and were not damaged in the fire.
‘We didn’t miss one single appointment on Tuesday morning our van was outside the building,’ said Antonis Papazoglou, Positive Voice’s empowerment officer.
‘We cleared up a space in the Positive Voice office we turned into a Checkpoint testing room, we’re lucky it’s close.’
Papazoglou told Gay Star News despite the terrifying attack, the community got on with providing important sexual health services.
‘I was surprised at the calmness, the resilience and determination of the gays,’ he said.
‘There was no hysteria, no panic. They put their head down… resumed work as if nothing happened.
‘It feels good to be a part of getting the job done so effectively.’
The cleanup and assessment of damage is well under way, with damages expected to exceed €100,000.
Rainbow flag made them a target
A recently unfurled giant rainbow Pride flag which hung over the Checkpoint balcony likely made the office a target.
Since putting it up only a few weeks ago, Checkpoint staff noticed people stopping to stare at it. Many also overheard negative comments about the flag.
‘It’s quite clear the flag was the problem, but we’re stunned with the effort they went to do what they did,’ Papazoglou said.
‘They had to scale the balcony that had shutters to get in.’
The LGBTI community has had an increase in visibility recently. But that has made them more of a target, especially from right-wing groups such as, Golden Dawn.
Vassilis Thanopoulos, editor in chief of Antivirus Magazine, said hateful rhetoric from high profile politicians and religious leaders has led to more crimes against the LGBTI community.
‘The increasing visibility of the LGBT+ community in Greece has led to an explosion of hate speech from certain politicians, as well as members of the Orthodox Church,’ he told GSN.
‘So, we could say that there’s has been an escalation to the reproduction of homophobic and transphobic comments, that create good ground for crimes like the one at CheckPoint.’
A US State Department human rights country review found LGBTI people faced extreme levels of violence, persecution and also had little trust in police to investigate hate crimes.
‘Violence against LGBTI individuals remained a problem, and societal discrimination and harassment were widespread despite advances in the legal framework protecting such individuals,’ the review read.
Fear won’t stop the rainbow flag from flying
Both Thanopoulos and Papazoglou agreed that Greece’s LGBTI communities will not back down in the face of hate.
‘LGBT+ people in Greece feel more empowered and free to claim the rights they deserve. Although we’re at the beginning of this journey, legislation, activist events and dynamic Pride Parades have done much for social acceptance,’ Thanopoulos said.
‘However, Greece, as the rest of Europe, is in a particular socio-political era, with far right and fascist voices to preach fear and fight against diversity as a whole, which sometimes poses security issues and social reflexes. The murder of Zack Kostopoulos is the most common example for that.’
Over at Checkpoint, a new rainbow flag was defiantly flying from the balcony just hours after the arson attack.
‘It hasn’t been done without fear, I put a flag in my balcony which is in a very public square and I’m scared and I shouldn’t be,’ Papazoglu said.
‘At the end of the day we’re putting it up because people need to know those (LGBTI) people exist.’
Nothing bad is without something good
The arson attack left Checkpoint’s crew very shaken, but they managed to see some humor in the situation.
‘The joke was “thankyou (for the fire) we wanted to move offices anyway”,’ Papazoglu said.
Papazoglu quoted an Ancient Greek proverb on why the arsonists had ‘absolutely done us a favor’.
‘Nothing bad is without something good,’ he said.
Author: Shannon Power
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