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Thousands protest after a 200-person mob chased a trans couple out of a film festival

Pride in Thessaloniki, Greece - June 23, 2018
Pride in Thessaloniki, Greece - June 23, 2018 Photo: Shutterstock

Just weeks after a landmark law granted same-sex couples in Greece the right to marry, nearly 200 people dressed in black on Saturday night chased a transgender couple through the town square in Thessaloniki, the country’s “second city” and host this week to the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.

This year’s edition includes a highly publicized tribute to queer cinema, “Citizen Queer.” 

After one member of the couple was punched in the face, the pair took refuge in a restaurant before the arrival of police, who escorted them from the scene. The couple were hit by bottles hurled at them on the way out, according to reports.

The following night, as thousands gathered in protest of the horrific attack, gay opposition leader Stefanos Kasselakis, whose support was vital to the passage of the marriage equality bill, was threatened and verbally attacked by another masked mob on his way to a screening at the festival. He fled into the theater.

A police officer outside the venue on Aristotelous Square intervened and was injured.

At least 21 suspects over two nights have been arrested so far. According to police, many were young people released pending hearings in juvenile court. A number of the assailants were Georgian and Albanian nationals.

Government spokesperson Pavlos Marinakis condemned the violence, stating that “batmen and hoodmen have no place in the Republic.”

The head of the opposition PASOK party, Nikos Androulakis, also denounced the weekend mayhem.

“Tonight’s incidents of masked men against protesters and the president of SYRIZA,” Androulakis said, “which follow yesterday’s attack on two citizens for their sexual orientation, are absolutely condemnable.”

The nine men remanded into custody face trial on Monday. The charges include abuse with bigoted intent, while two of the adults, who allegedly threw bottles at the trans couple, were also charged with assault.

In a statement, the documentary festival reacted to the attack with “anger and repugnance.”

“I thought some things would have changed, but now I wonder, have things changed?” lesbian activist and filmmaker Maria Katsikadakou told Variety. She said she was “angry and terrified” about the brazen assault on the couple.

“Greek society is abusive,” said conceptual artist and filmmaker Fil Ieropoulos, whose documentary about the Athens drag scene, “Avant-Drag!,” plays this week in Thessaloniki.

The weekend’s events, he said, reflect “what Greek reality is for queers.”

“With these new laws, we are at a crossroads and we’re going to see what all this really means for Greek society in the next few years,” he said. “I don’t personally think these laws reflect where Greece is as a society. And if anything, this event shows that the fact that some people may benefit from the new laws does not change Greek reality in general and especially for trans people.”

“Things have changed,” added lesbian filmmaker Katsikadakou. “But the changes, you see in Athens.”

“The rest of Greece is full of Orthodox, right-wing, patriarchal people. The macho culture is in their DNA.”

Thessaloniki faces another test in June after being designated host city for EuroPride, the annual pan-European LGBTQ+ event. Several hundred thousand visitors will descend on the seaside town for concerts, parties, and a massive parade.

Katsikadakou said she hopes “we flood the city with angry queers” with “no f**king tolerance for fascist, homophobic, racist acts.”

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