Lesbos islanders in court over use of word ‘lesbians’

Sophie Picheta June 10, 2008
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A court hearing begins in Athens today that is set to add to the debates about gay rights in one of Europe’s more conservative countries.

Residents on the island of Lesbos are attempting to stop homosexual women from using the term ‘lesbian’ to define themselves.

They are taking gay rights group OLKE, the Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece, to court to get a ban on anyone except islanders and their descendants using the term lesbian.

The Greek island, home to the 6th Century BC poet Sappho, who wrote about female same-sex love, lends its name to the term ‘lesbian.’

“My sister can’t say she is a Lesbian,” islander and plaintiff Dimitris Lambrou told AP.

“Our geographical designation has been usurped by certain ladies who have no connection whatsoever with Lesbos.”

Lambrou points out that until 1924 the Oxford English Dictionary defined ‘lesbian’ as an inhabitant of Lesbos.

“Now because of its new connotations, our womenfolk are unable to call themselves such and that is wrong.”

Mr Lambrou claims that the legal action is not motivated by prejudice against lesbians, however, some disagree.

Andrea Gilbert, spokesperson for Athens Pride 2008 and a member of OLKE, has drawn attention to the amount of money from tourism that lesbians bring to the island when visiting Eressos, the birthplace of Sappho.

She told

“The claim is based in serious prejudice and hatred, a ridiculous claim that most Greeks find laughable. However, the underlying homophobia and reactionary sentiment is no laughing matter.”

The court case comes as the first gay marriages in Greece took place last week.

Tassos Alfieries, the Mayor of Tilos, an island with a population of less than 600, offered to perform Greece’s first gay wedding, after two men announced their intention to wed in a newspaper notice.

He faces legal action for marrying the couples, and the government insists the weddings are invalid.

Lesbian and gay rights activists argue that the law does not explicitly proclaim a civil union must take place between a man and a woman.

At Saturday’s gay Pride parade in Athens marchers were pelted with eggs and flour by right-wing sympathisers.

Grigoris Valianatos, a gay rights activist, said: “No other group faces such discrimination in this country.”

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