In a Mediterranean country that enjoys over 360 days of crystal clear skies and ebullient sun each year, it's really hard to hide, especially when playing hide and seek, the fun game we used to play with our parents, older siblings and friends, who really knew our cover but pretended not to. This, in so many words, describes the issue of homosexuality in Greece. Put simply, everyone might know, but why bring it up and rock the boat? And when we do bring it up, in the form of "open-minded" chit-chat about this or that famous person who "must be gay," because otherwise he wouldn't be famous, the boat not only rocks but begins to sink into the dark waters of ignorance.
A favorite phrase used by homophobes starts with, "I'm not homophobic, but...," or, "I don't care what he or she does in bed, but...." And that "but" brings us to this week's decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemning Greece (on yet one more count) for excluding homosexual couples from the 2008 civil unions law, making my country one of the few democratic nations in Europe that is not recognizing as equal the working, tax-paying, law-abiding, army-serving individuals who make up its society. Once again, to paraphrase Orwell, some are just more equal than others. In fact, according to the ECHR, "Greece was the only country to have enacted legislation governing a form of civil partnership while under the same legislation excluding same-sex couples from its scope." Sad.
This decision by the ECHR comes on the heels of the international release of Tunisian-French director Abdellatif Kechiche's Palme d'Or-winning film Blue Is the Warmest Color, which, thanks in part to pretty, Paris-born, Greek-French star Adèle Exarchopoulos, and mostly thanks to its stimulatingly stretched sex scenes, has lured thousands of moviegoers to cinemas and, in the process, forced the issue of LGBT rights to the center of attention.
In the meantime, in an article last week, one of Greece's popular Rome-based news correspondents decided that it was time to tell the world that he is gay, saying that he was taking this first step in making his sexuality public in an effort to raise awareness, serve as a role model for dispirited gay youth and do his part so that Greece can courageously and effectively deal with racism, homophobia and the "barbaric ridicule of the ignorant."
And yet amid all this incessant talk of homosexuality, with the city's liberal free press throwing acceptance and tolerance in our face as a sort of trend, the truth is that "don't ask, don't tell" is the philosophy of the times in a country that flaunts homosexuality yet still has no openly gay politicians, singers, actors or other opinion makers paving the way.
To borrow Vladimir Lenin's phrase, one step forward, two steps back. Athens may now have a "gay" district, gay-friendly bars and cafés, gay film houses and massage parlors, a pride parade and gay sites, and we might even be living next door to a gay couple, learning about closeted gay poets and watching TV shows with coy gay characters (preferably not kissing, because Greece's TV authority finds this insulting, but not violence or rape), but when it comes to equal rights for all, we abruptly and awkwardly pull the hand brake.
Many Greeks do indeed have male neighbors who live together, one doing the chores and the shopping, the other cooking and doing all sorts of handiwork. And they like their neighbors and kind of wonder whether they might be gay, but hey, these guys are nice, don't look gay and are fun to be with. This pretty picture of progress changes when the very same two guys muster up the courage (or have the nerve) to blurt out that they are in fact a couple in life. This extra piece of information fiercely throws the social bond off balance. Why? Because what are we supposed to do with such shocking news? It somehow implicates us and forces us to reexamine our rigid belief system and basically accept that they are really no different from us. And where does that leave us? With an inner battle that very few are willing or daring enough to enter, as it often involves tearing down the entire edifice of social mores that we've been brought up with. And so we begin to feel threatened by the transparency of this truth despite knowing before the two neighbors even confessed.
And sadly, this is our reaction every time we hear a wife being beaten upstairs, a child being slapped downstairs or a dog being kicked across the hall. No one wants the hassle of implication, so as long as we don't ask, they won't tell, and thus not only do we knowingly pave the way for racism, sexism, homophobia and fascism, but we nourish it.
In these post-Medieval times, it's not tolerance or acceptance that we should be speaking of, for both of these imply that the thing to be tolerated or accepted is something that we actually dislike or don't approve of. We should be speaking of education, which enlightens and teaches the respect of all creatures, great and small, straight and gay, black and white, religious or not, as there is no one, not even the more equal among us, who is better or worse in this universe.