Four months ago, in one of our typical long-winded and circular conversations bemoaning the state of queer politics, my friend Vagia (rhymes with playa in Spanish) Georgali and I had one of those half-crazed lightbulb moments: we could, we were sure, create something that the LGBTQ community in Athens, Greece deeply needed. It would be a ton of work, no question, but we were convinced that we could pull it off and that it would be well worth the effort.
What was our vision? Never ones to dream small, Vagia and I wanted to launch the first Greek LGBTQ oral history project. We had noticed that a many LGBT+ people in Athens know surprisingly little about the history of LGBTQ activism and organizing in Greece. Younger people, too, don’t have an easy way to learn about the personal experiences and lives of LGBTQ people who have come before them and paved the way for greater social acceptance. Potential allies who want to self-educate about queer issues don’t have an obvious resource to look to. We also knew that LGBTQ people and allies abroad know even less about the fascinating and impressive history of queer history and culture within Greece, nor about the current state of LGBTQ rights and protections. For example, I’ve had countless conversations with American and Canadian queer people who are shocked to find out that same-sex marriage is not legal in Greece. In fact, neither is joint adoption by same-sex couples. Not until 2015 were civil partnerships amongst same-sex couples legally recognized In Greece. It was also in 2015 that Syriza, the progressive political party, passed the first legislation establishing name and gender change procedures for trans people.
Vagia and I are both elder millennials who, culturally, have never quite felt in sync with that generation. Vagia is a lifelong Athenian and I’m a Greek American who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. In terms of political geography, class, and cultural influences, our respective self-discovery experiences as young queers in the early 2000s couldn’t have been more different. Yet we also share some formative experiences. We both came out as lesbians very young and wasted no time in getting involved in LGBTQ community. Vagia and I each have stories of having been, well, initiated into gay life, and righteously schooled, by older women. Because of that, we were both lucky enough to get to know a diverse set of activists and community members early on in our own gay lives and ultimately to gain an understanding and context for LGBTQ histories, both locally and broadly, that a lot of other folks our age or younger didn’t necessarily have access to. And let’s be honest: we’re also huge nerds who are convinced that learning queer history is a crucial tactic for cultural progress and of course, political liberation.
Vagia spent her 20s committed to queer activism and community building work in Athens and I spent mine studying and then teaching LGBTQ history, feminism, and queer theory in academic spaces. Informed by these backgrounds, and our shared political and cultural sensibility, we’re invested in the project of archiving living history and creating a more formal yet widely accessible resource that people can use in a number of ways: to reduce stigma, increase acceptance, educate people, and build community. We ultimately decided that the most effective and practical way to share the personal and political stories we are collecting is by recording our community members’ stories in their own words and sharing them through the podcast medium.
This summer, we announced our project, built a website, assembled a team, and began recording interviews with prominent Greek activists and LGBTQ community members, some of whom have been involved in gay life in Athens since the 1970s.
We’ve been absolutely humbled by the supportive response. People have been eager to donate their time and skills to help make the project a reality. The exuberant reactions we hear when we talk to people about the project confirm what we thought when we decided to start working in the first place: this is something that the LGBTQ community in Greece wants and needs.
The most challenging aspect of launching and building Queer Athens has been securing funds to cover our material needs — equipment, software, web hosting and development — and to compensate the people who are spending hours on design, web development, recording interviews, audio editing, transcription, translation, and sound engineering. We’re researching grants and funding options, which are very limited within Greece and complicated by pesky things like institutional homophobia. Until that’s sorted, we’ve been humbled to receive support directly from our community.
The first episode of Queer Athens will air on November 9, 2022. Go find us now on Spotify, Google Podcasts, or Apple Podcasts, and you’ll be sure to catch the episode as soon as it drops. In the meantime, you can follow us on Instagram, where we regularly post content about LGBTQ history in Greece. You can learn about our project in more detail on our website.