On World AIDS Day, Calls for Greece to Fight Hate, Homophobia

Αssociated Press

A volunteer hangs red ribbons, the universal symbol of awareness and support for those living with HIV, to mark World AIDS Day in Dharmsala, India, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. Volunteers collected blood samples from local Tibetans to be tested free of cost for HIV. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)

ATHENS – During the marking of World AIDS Day, Greece was urged to take on a stronger stand against hate and homophobia as activists were visible in the capital handing out literature and reaching out with education programs.

While the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA has backed gay rights, apart from gay marriage, Giorgos Tsiakalakis, head of Communication of Positive Voice, the Hellenic Organization for HIV-positive people, told the Chinese news agency Xinhua that more needs to be done.

"New generations are more informed about HIV. However, there are people who lose their jobs because of the disease, people who are rejected by their family and friends. Lots of people still consider it a punishment for gay people or people who frequently change sexual partners," he said.

A recent study by the Hellenic Center for Disease Control & Prevention (KEELPNO) found 540 people diagnosed with the HIV virus in the first 10 months of 2018. Among them, 448 are men and 92 are women, and these numbers are similar to the same periods of the previous two years.

Until Oct. 1 this year, 17,241 people infected with the virus have been recorded and 4,199 of them have AIDS. The number of people that have died due to virus complications in Greece are 2,846, the date showed.

A campaign about HIV awareness concluded in Athens with the lighting of the Greek Parliament at Syntagma Square as holiday shoppers were swarming the area.

"The campaign is a profound political statement. The core of it is that in order to fight the discrimination experienced by HIV-positive people, we must fight the lack of tolerance, the rhetoric of hate, the homophobia and the fear we generally have for the different," said Tsiakalakis.

"The stigma of the HIV-positive people is the tree. The forest is the largely phobic society that pushes everyone who feels different and deviates from the average on the sidelines," he said, adding that there's no reason they should be shunted aside.

"The marginalization is the one that nourishes HIV. There are studies showing that when social determinants such as marginalization or unemployment are eliminated, individuals are less vulnerable to transmitted diseases such as HIV," he said.

"We want to spread the message of acceptance and talk about equality, respect of human rights and inclusion. Vulnerable groups are the symptom of the pathogenesis of society, not their cause," Tsiakalakis told the news agency.