Greek-American LGBTs Inspired by SC Ruling

NEW YORK – When the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage in two cases on June 26 – albeit by narrow 5-4 margins – Greek-American gay men and women hoped that more than the legal landscape will now change.
TNH has spoken to a number of individuals, including clergy, gay rights advocates, and health professionals about the ruling. They believe the ruling will inspire discussion in the Greek-American community that will foster understanding and acceptance. {64800}

The Greek-Orthodox Archdiocese has not issued a statement about the rulings at press time, but its views are reflected in an August 27, 2003 statement of SCOBA – the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, which was chaired by Archbishop Demetrios of America:
“The Orthodox Church cannot and will not bless same-sex unions. Whereas marriage between a man and a woman is a sacred institution ordained by God, homosexual union is not. Like adultery and fornication, homosexual acts are condemned by Scripture…This being said, however, we must stress that persons with a homosexual orientation are to be cared for with the same mercy and love that is bestowed by our Lord Jesus Christ upon all of humanity.”
Although there is a consensus that in recent years the Church has handled the issues with greater sensitivity and understanding, older Greek-Americans experienced social isolation and hostility in Church contexts as they endured life crises through the decades, including the AIDS epidemic.
Nicholas Zymaris, a young computer programmer, told TNH “personally I have not been denied communion,” as some have reported.
Zymaris thinks the Supreme Court made a good decision. He belongs to the younger generation and said, “I think a lot of priests are rather accepting.”
He is active with “Axios – Eastern * Orthodox LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] Christians, which marched for the 30th time on Sunday at the annual New York Gay Pride parade.
IT IS ABOUT FAMILY VALUES
George Plagianos is one of the co-founders of the group. Axios emerged around 1980 in California and Plagianos communicated with them. Meetings in 1983 led to a New York group that began to march in the New York Parade.
He boldly fights those with hostile views on the very battlefield where opponents of gay rights traditionally take their stand: Family values. He says the attitudes of conservatives tear families apart.
“We must strengthen our families. All along the way I saw what families get messed up or destroyed when the church could still demonize gays as being either sinful or unworthy.”
He said his mother for years would say to him in Greek “I still don’t know how the devil ever got into you. The words still haunt him.
Plagianos grew up in Bay Ridge, and attended Kimisis and later Holy Cross Church. He realized he was gay as early as elementary school when he was aware that he found Ancient Greek statues and vase paintings very interesting. He also studied at Holy Cross for one year, and has had both positive and negative church experiences.
Although there have always been more “progressive priests,” recently-trained clergy reportedly strive to be faithful both to church teachings and to Christ’s example of compassion.
When asked if it is helpful to see sexual preference as people as being “wired” a certain way, or, in the words of pop star Lady Gaga “born that way,” Fr. Nathanael Symeonides, pastor of the Church if the Evangelismos on Manhattan’s uber-liberal Upper West Side told TNH, “I’m not a biologist…I don’t know if that the best way to speak about what human beings are. We are not machines.
“I do know that a human person is asked to live a live in Christ and to aspire to be more than just our biology, and to be holy. That can come to somebody who is wired any way they think they are wired. God’s Spirit can come to anyone and God’s love embraces all of us,” he said.
“I think the church has always been open to addressing the needs of all people, but it depends on who is speaking. Hopefully it is someone who has thought through and prayed about these things and can address them in a very responsible way.”
He agreed that the Orthodox Church tends to address such issues on a one on one basis in the context of pastoral counseling. “People will not find the Orthodox answer to questions on such issues on Google, but these issues have been addressed by the church since the beginning of Christendom… they are addressed when people come to speak to the priests one on one.. with their Spiritual father.”
Plagianos, on the other hand, believes an opportunity for that to happen earlier was tragically lost in the aftermath of the AIDS outbreak when community organizations and institutions could have played a greater role in educating gays about the dangers to their health and educate the rest of the community to address the social isolation of those stricken by the disease.
“We were reaching out to the churches but they did not even acknowledge our existence or do anything,” Plagianos said. He does acknowledge some heroes however. By 1989 the Archdiocese’s GOTELECOM put out a video “AIDS, an Orthodox perspective,” working with an Axios member, the late George Vlamis and Father Milton Efthimiou, but Plagianos said the Church never promoted the video.
They produced a more recent video featuring actor John Stamos titled “A Family Like Ours” about a families experience with a son dying of AIDS.
Zymaris noted an OCAMPR conference in November 2006 at Holy Cross School of Theology that focused on human sexuality in an Orthodox context and homosexuality was one of the most frequent topics that came up. Three Axios representatives were officially invited to participate.
They were prepared to respond strongly to presenters who took the now discredited position that people can change their orientation, but were pleasantly surprised “when an elderly, heterosexual priest said everything we wanted to say.”
IT IS PART OF THE HUMAN CONDITION
Zymaris agreed that despite progress, “families can still break apart,” over these issues. “The most basic thing, whether someone is gay or straight, is that this is part of the human condition. My parents had great difficulty dealing with it at first, but they came around and their reason was that they loved their son and I think that happens in most families.”
Nevertheless, he says that even in the context of ministering to those suffering from AIDS, most priests still cannot get beyond “the sin of homosexuality.” He said “to fight homophobia in the church you have to keep bringing it up and desensitizing them so they don’t think we are the devil.”
He hopes that the Supreme Court decision will open up the doors for discussion and “conservative people will become shyer,” about attacking them and that those in support of gay issues and civil rights will feel freer to speak.
Plagianos came out in 1974 and he was very lonely in high school. He found few people to speak with, though some were understanding Greek Orthodox priests. He deeply appreciates the moral support he received from the late Father Emmanuel “Manny” Gratsias.
He admires Fr. Gratsias pastoral ethos, saying, “he reached out to people he didn’t sit in his office waiting for families to call.” As Fr. Angelo Gavalas’ assistant at Three Hierarchs, he learned to go out to hospitals and look on the roster for Orthodox people. Father Manny found time to counsel Plagianos by taking him along during those hospital visits.
Plagianos also appreciates the work of people like Maria Zachmanoglu, whose father was a priest. Agape Circle, which is a ministry of the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, provides support to individuals in need and their families. With Agape Circle, people can be open about all personal and social matters.
Their upcoming First Wednesday lecture series, which is scheduled to begin in September, will focus on relationships and gay marriage will be addressed.
Zachmanoglu told TNH, “I strongly believe in Gay marriage…why not? If two people love each other, let them get married.” Told people have been shouted down on such issues, she said “that’s really too bad. We have to discuss these issues.”
“Our church is a very conservative church… although you will always find some progressive clergyman, like my father, Kalinikos Hatzilambrou, who served in places like New York and Boston in the 1940s and 50s. He privately counseled people that they could use contraceptives,” she said.
Axios also appreciates the support of GABSI, which has presented informative videos at their meetings, including the Greek movie Strella, which examined LBGT people’s estrangement from their families.
Plagianos feels the church traditionally has fostered that estrangement by saying that it’s an evil. “They don’t accept it,” he said, “but they have to accept that it’s a reality, that they are people, not the devil they talk about.”