Greece’s LGBTI people defiant in face of homophobic arson attack

a rainbow pride flag hangs over a balcony, behind it are the marks of arson with smoke stained walls

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. 

a person is giving a hiv test at a desk.

The Checkpoint HIV testing center got straight back into it after a homophobic arson attack | Photo: Supplied

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

The post Greece’s LGBTI people defiant in face of homophobic arson attack appeared first on Gay Star News.

Homophobic arsonists torch HIV testing center in Athens

inside a burnt office, the camera faces the balcony which shows a bright rainbow flag waving

The Greek government has condemned an arson attack on a LGBTI sexual health organization in Athens.

Unknown assailants set fire to the Athens headquarters of Checkpoint during the early hours of Monday morning. Located in the central and tourist area, Monastiraki, fire fighters were able to stop the fire spreading to the second floor and adjacent buildings.

The arsonists scaled the first floor balcony, ripping down the external Pride flag and throwing gasoline through the windows.

Checkpoint is a Positive Voice and AHF Europe (AIDS Healthcare Foundation) initiative. It carries out more than 100,00 free HIV tests annually. Checkpoint also diagnoses about 30% of all HIV cases in Greece each year.

a rainbow pride flag hangs over a balcony, behind it are the marks of arson with smoke stained walls

Checkpoint defiantly waved a new rainbow flag | Photo: Positive Voice

Staff and volunteers had left the building only an hour and half before the attack.

‘The perpetrators of the attack did not simply try to burn a building,’ said Positive Voice in a statement.

‘With the incendiary materials of intimidation and violence, they tried to silence a strong voice defending human rights and choking off the humanitarian values ​​and ideals that we are advocating.’

‘Our response is timelessly clear. We will not let the fear feed the monster,’ it said.

‘The Rainbow flag will be waving again today in our structure as a political statement that human rights do not succumb to any fascist extortion.’

Despite not having a building to operate from in Athens, Checkpoint has continued providing services. Its has been servicing clients in a temporary mobile unit parked outside of the building.

a burned room, with a yellow wall, couch armchair and white coffee table

Inside the burned office | Photo: Positive Voices

Political response

Political and civil society leaders quickly spoke out against the homophobic arson attack.

Greece’s ruling party, SYRIZA, issued a statement condemning it. One of SYRIZA’s MEPs, Panagiotis Kourouplis, also visited the burnt out office the day after the attack.

‘The struggle against homophobia, the elimination of discrimination, stereotypes and prejudices is constant and everyday,’ SYRIZA’s statement read.

‘We expect the authorities to investigate the case and to arrest the perpetrators.’

The Onassis Foundation – one of the biggest philanthropic groups in Greece – showed its solidarity with Checkpoint by raising the Rainbow flag outside its massive cultural center in Athens.

‘Our response to the homophobic attack at Positive Voice’s Checkpoint center is proudly shown at the entrance to our cultural center,’ the Onassis Foundation wrote on Facebook.

‘Human rights do not succumb to intimidation. Rainbows don’t burn.’

The arson comes just days before the six month anniversary of LGBTI activist and drag queen, Zak Kostopoulos. He died from injuries after a jewellery shop owner and local police beat him.

A public campaign called for his murder to be properly investigated and not dismissed because of his sexuality and HIV status. Although the campaign continues, it lead to the arrests of two men, the suspension of six police officers and a second coroner’s report which determined the cause of death.

LGBTI people are amongst the most vilified in Greece. A 2018 study found violence against the LGBTI community still outnumbers all other kinds of violence in Greece.

Author: Shannon Power

The post Homophobic arsonists torch HIV testing center in Athens appeared first on Gay Star News.