Growing up Greek and gay

A call for the Greek community to reconsider its conservatism

Artist's depiction of Greek statues Art: Jocelin Chan

I came out at a Greek Orthodox School.

The experience was relatively manageable: challenges ranged from mild homophobic slurs thrown at me across the schoolyard, to occasional ostracising in masculine circles. While queer narratives tend to include stories of bullying, bashings and chasings, my experience didn’t. Though in retrospect, I totally underestimated the homophobia that ran rampant throughout the school.

It was common for priests to tell students what to think about marriage equality and the Safe Schools’ campaign, standing at the front of assembly as hundreds of students naively nodded in agreement. Pamphlets on traditional marriage were handed to us, as were petitions created by students opposed to marriage equality. I recall teachers skipping textbook sections on LGBTI+ issues; there was no mention of same-sex safety, or of queers persecuted during the Second World War. I had to meet with my principal for permission to write about homosexual persecution in the Holocaust for my History Extension major. My counselor lied to staff as to why I had to see her.

Sections of the Sydney Greek community have adopted the rise of the new ‘alt-right’ with full force, including its homophobic and transphobic tendencies. I have seen more Trump supporters within Greek circles than any other. They are consistently pushing their conservative agenda onto children in Orthodox schools, and onto the elderly who often do not have well-formed views of their own.

When asked about marriage equality some years ago, my Yiayia and Pappou held no views. “Let them do what they want,” they said, “Why should we care?” But following seminars held by the Greek Orthodox community in 2016 in favour of ‘traditional marriage’, however, their views quickly changed. They were persuaded to sign petitions against same-sex marriage, without understanding  the issue at hand.  The Church felt it important to teach conservative rhetoric to otherwise naïve seniors who would have remained apathetic.

Similarly, Greek Orthodox schools have managed to swing students to the political right. Many students are advocating for Trump and traditional marriage, and will frequently leave a snarky comment on Facebook about how there are only “two genders” followed by an ‘angry feminist’ meme.

This attitude persists in a university setting. On the Sydney University Greek Society (SUGS) facebook page, a local priest commented on a post announcing the election of an all-female executive with “Wow. No men. That can’t be healthy”. I engaged in the thread, and was in turn called a “flouflou” (faggot) among other misogynistic and homophobic slurs from other Greeks.

At the most recent USyd Oweek, I manned the Queer Collective stall, and to little surprise we had the occasional homophobic comment: “Hey my friend wants to sign up,” or “Is this the fag collective?”  Each comment made came from recently graduates of my Greek Orthodox High School. It was deeply disheartening for me to see people I’d grown up with embodying ideologies that work against my being.

I emailed my former Principal about the incident to express my sadness at the comments made by members of her school. I pleaded for more progressive views to be encouraged. Unfortunately, her response was disappointing. “University is very different to secondary independent education,” she wrote, ignoring my suggestion that the school should alter its political stance in an attempt to combat their students’ attitudes.

It’s a common assumption that migrant communities are empathetic to other migrants and left-leaning ideas. On the contrary, the Greek community has evolved into one of the most conservative communities in Australia. Sections of it often take pride in espousing rhetoric that is sexist, homophobic and racist. The disparity between the Sydney Greek community and homeland Greeks is huge: members of the former stand in stark contrast to Greeks who have invested energy in refugee squats, elected Syriza, one of Europe’s furthest left political parties, and fostered an impressive anarchist movement. If the Sydney Greek community are truly patriotic, they should follow the ways of their brothers and sisters back home.

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