Photos by Francesca Watkinson
ATHENS, Greece — At times, it gets lonely for Michael Lolis, the only out police officer in Greece.
Though relations between the police force and the LGBTQ community has improved markedly in recent years, there are remnants of distrust and prejudice.
And Lolis is caught in the middle.
“To LGBTQ people, I’m a cop,” he said. “To cops, I’m a fag.”
Some members of the LGBTQ community still see officers as agents of oppression and not everyone in the country’s police force supports the strides the country has made in terms of LGBTQ rights.
Though many are supportive, some colleagues have targeted Lolis, he said. An interview and recent pro-LGBTQ Facebook post drew multiple complaints and hate-filled comments. And last year, the head of a police officers’ association called for an official investigation after the 32-year-old posted a picture of himself kissing his boyfriend under a Greek flag on Instagram.
“The reaction of the police is to order official investigations,” said Lolis, a police lieutenant in the department that investigates homophobic and racist attacks. “But they get nowhere because I haven’t done anything to deserve disciplinary action.”
When he first came out at the first World LGBT Conference for Criminal Justice Professionals in 2016, his bosses threatened disciplinary action. In the end, all Lolis received was an unofficial reprimand. “They had no legal standing,” he said. “What could they reprimand me for? For being gay?”
Rather than respond to public attacks, Lolis uses them for his work, he said. “They sustain me and give me the strength to carry on.”
Born in a small village near Ioannina, Lolis graduated from the Hellenic Police Academy. Today, he is a member of the European LGBT Police Association and speaks openly of his experience as a gay police officer as in this 2017 TEDx Talk. His advice to those considering coming out? “Talk to your parents and your friends and create an environment of truth in your life,” he said. “When you speak openly, everybody shuts up.”
Before Lolis came out himself, he had to face his own truth. “I felt different, but I had no role models to identify with,” he said. “I ended up having sex with a man for the first time when I was 20. Realizing what was happening was very painful. I was uneasy and fearful of what I was feeling and what I was.”
Confused, Lolis began the journey of discovering himself.
“You don’t realize yet the depth and extent of your homosexuality, which naturally is not just about sex but a range of emotions, of love and companionship. You end up living two lives,” he said.
For Lolis, salvation came in the form of love. He was 22 and happy. But when he told his mother, she cried. “She was scared and ashamed. She even told me that she wanted to die,” he said. “What heterosexual person ever heard their mother say that she wants to die because of what her child is?”
But his family eventually came around.
“Today, I’m moved every time my father tells me he’s proud of me after I give an interview or when my mother reposts something I have written.”
Greece has changed over the last five years. A law that makes discrimination based on race has been expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and same-sex couples have gotten more rights when it comes to cohabitation.
The next step is to “conquer family rights,” getting recognition for same-sex marriage and adoption, Lolis said, adding that he would like to be a father himself one day.
“The progress of human rights is natural and inevitable,” he said. “I’m always optimistic.”