hiv/aids in greece

Part 3: HIV and activism

The Silence = Death Project, Silence = Death, 1986

In our previous blog article, part of our latest Made in Greece blog series in the course of which we are trying to map the landscape of LGBTIQA+ rights, activism, and culture in Greece, we completed a short his-tory of male homosexuality in Greece, that is the three cultural conceptualizations of it all the way from Second World War until nowadays. This historical contextualization helps us understand the interlocking cultural logics of stigmatization of both male homoerotic desire and HIV/AIDS. As we have seen, both of them are perceived as transgressions of the gendered and sexual order resulting in the formation of stigmatized and spoiled identities based on processes of othering that construct both PLWHA and male homosexuals as morally corrupt while at the same time naturalize the symbolic link between them via a series of metaphors. In this blog post, we are going to revisit the history of HIV/AIDS activism and its relation to LGBTIQA+ movement in Greece since the early 80s

Gerald Jampolsky, MD, and Diane Cirincione, PhD, with illustrator Jack Keeler, I Have AIDS - Please Hug Me - I Can't Make You Sick, 1987

The absence of an LGBTIQA+ organized medical activism in Greece at least until the early 2000s, despite the presence of an LGBTIQA+ movement even before the break of the epidemic, is commonplace in literature (Agrafiotis 1997, Yannakopoulos1998). Riedel (2005; 2010)’s historical account of this ‘movement that was not’ summarizes a series of reasons for its non-existence by focusing on why the gay rights movement of the time kept its distance from the HIV/AIDS with its minimal role of providing information on the pages of AMFI, the magazine published initially by AKOE and subsequently be EOK (Greek Homosexual Community) which succeeded the latter, and on why in turn HIV/AIDS activist groups consistently abstained from being self-characterized as gay groups despite the fact that male homosexuals comprised the majority of their beneficiaries. The author is careful enough not to resort to a narrative of backwardness of Greek gay rights movement in comparison to its U.S.-based counterpart, where queer activism was born out the radical politicization of the HIV/AIDS and it was rendered the model for the medical activism against other diseases, especially cancer, and attentive enough to recognise the active yet individualized role gay rights activists played as volunteers in HIV/AIDS activism of the early days which was consisted mainly of women, health professionals and social workers. 

Keith Haring, Stop AIDS, 1989

While the hesitation due to the little experience of AKOE with only six years behind it when the first case was recorded in Greece in early 1983, a twenty-five-year-old Zambian student, and the distraction caused by internal organizational pressures that led to the dissolution of AKOE and the foundation of EOK in 1988, retain some exegetical power, Riedel’s argument weights in on the side of a third ‘cultural’ reason. According to the author, ‘the adaptation of activist strategies and arguments regarding AIDS was shaped by a range of partially articulated cultural assumptions about homosexuality’ that ‘rather than fostering institutional connections between gay rights activism and AIDS activism, encouraged a structural divide between various activist endeavours’ (Riedel, 2005: 81). 

Reading these ‘cultural assumptions’ on the pages of AMFI that was mirroring the sexual politics and the ideology of both AKOE and EOK, it was on the one hand, the separation of disease from the homosexual identity as high risk group by shifting the attention to high risk practices, and on the other hand, the declaration of its ideological goal as the liberation of a universal homosexual desire potentially belonging to anyone instead of the liberation of homosexuals themselves -as an identity politics would have it- that had made it self-contradictory and politically self-defeating move for the Greek gay rights movement to promote an anti-HIV/AIDS agenda for fear of homosexualizing the disease and essentializing the political subject it supposed to represent. Moreover, this political ideology was reinforced by the gender-stratified practice-oriented sexual economy of ‘traditional and masculine homosexuality’, the dominant conceptualization of male homosexuality at that time, that had as a result an identity-based approach to HIV/AIDS to seem culturally unintelligible. As Riedel (2005: 100) aptly puts it, ‘it was as if the Greek homosexual movement was pre-fabricated to accept the safer sex message’.

Avram Finkelstein and the What Is Undetectable Flash Collective, What Is Undetectable?, 2014

The minimal involvement of EOK with HIV/AIDS activism was continued in the 1990s, and even though it was informed and followed this time by the reconceptualization of male homosexuality towards the ‘gay’ identity model, as I noted in our previous articles, this unofficial ‘allocation of jurisdiction’ between LBGT movement and HIV/AIDS movement continues to be the case as we speak. Today, complimentary to the state health facilities specialized in HIV/AIDS, among them sixteen Infectious Diseases Units and seven Reference Centres of HIV and the HCDCP, there is only one NGO dedicated to the prevention of the spread of the virus by providing sexual health education and free, anonymous, and quick HIV-testing, and offering psychosocial and legal support and counselling to seropositive individuals and PLWA (People Living With AIDS). This NGO is none other than Ecce Homo’s community ally, Positive Voice, the Greek Association of People Living with HIV.

Brendan Fernandes, In PrEP We Trust?, 2016

Even nowadays, there seems to be a veil of silence and invisibility surrounded HIV/AIDS especially in its relation to male homosexuality in the case of Greece: HIV/AIDS-related issues are rarely part of the daily political agenda of both the grass-root activist groups and the more ‘institutionalized’ gay rights NGOs, the issue is understudied by social sciences and undernarrativized only by a handful of literary and cinematic texts (Paparousi, 2012; Kyriakos, 2016), never part of the political sphere nor of the LBGT counterpublics, lives without testimony and ungrievable deaths (Yannakopoulos, 2011), an ‘aphasic’ non-place ‘of concealment and of denial of the political’ (Papanikolaou, 2018). All these reasons make the work of Positive Voice even more invaluable as they aim at securing better prevention and counselling practices, healthcare services, and social care to seropositive persons and groups vulnerable to HIV. Also, they work towards social acceptance, solidarity, and support of the abovementioned groups in order to tackle violations of their human dignity and rights. 

 Learn here how each purchase helps us support Positive Voice’s work with HIV/AIDS in Greece in the context of our CSR program! 

 *The images present iconic AIDS Activist Artworks, part of what is also known as HIV art