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Are We Exotic Fruit?

Irene Petropoulou, Grant Awarded 1994

Irene Petropoulou speaking at an LGBT conference in Athens
Irene Petropoulou speaking at an LGBT conference in Athens

I received a Hellman-Hammett grant in 1994 for my work with an LGBT magazine in Greece called Amphi. I was the editor-in-chief of the magazine, which published articles written by LGBT people about gay life in Greece. In 1990, the government charged Amphi with “indecency against public morality.” In Greece, when a conservative government wants to make your life difficult, they start with your public image. This particular charge related to a very brief article we published which discussed how some straight men took out ads in our magazine looking to meet lesbian women. We made fun of this and wrote, “What are we, exotic fruit?” We weren’t the ones advertising for sex, but still we were charged with indecency. Since everyone in the Greek LGBT movement worked on a volunteer basis, I had to take on the cost of the court charge myself. I took out a loan from a friend to pay for some of the expenses, and the Hellman-Hammett grant enabled me to pay back this loan.

“What is ‘the love that dare not speak its name?” asked Charles Gill, prosecutor in the trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895. The question remains relevant today: laws around the world that target lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are often sweeping in application and vague in definition. Ten years ago, Human Rights Watch started a research division on LGBT rights to combat this widespread discrimination and violence. In Malaysia, officials from the Religious Department beat transgender people and paraded them before the media. In Cameroon, a man went to prison for texting “I love you” to another man. In Russia, gay men are frequently beaten by thugs on the street, while the police stand by. The Human Rights Watch video on homophobic violence in Russia went viral, receiving more than 4 million views on YouTube. Help Defend Human Rights & Save Lives. Donate at HRW.org.

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