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Politics

First Openly Gay Minister Hopes Role Will Help LGBT+ People

ΑΤΗΕΝS — After being named Deputy Minister for Contemporary Culture, Greece’s first openly gay person in a Cabinet role said his experience with being discriminated against will help him try to make life easier for the country’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transsexual plus (LGBT+) population.

Nicholas Yatromanolakis, 45, told Reuters in an interview, after getting the post when Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis did a mild shakeup of his ministers during the COVID-19 pandemic that he had often been discouraged from seeking office.

He said he was told the best he could hope to achieve in Greece, with an anti-gay sentiment prevelant even at the goverment level, was to be a political consultant but not a ministerial position.

“All LGBT people have at some point in their lives had to work in environments that were not entirely supportive or understanding of who they are,” he told the Thomson ReutersFoundation in a video call.

He recounted being told, “Hush, darling,” on live TV and receiving condescending looks and smirks throughout his time in public life.

“You can’t let that bother you, because it’s your life … and you have to do what you believe is the right thing,” he said, adding that he had sometimes been mistaken for a LGBT+activist if he spoke about gay rights.

While his role is broader than just the LGBT+ community, he said he would bring up issues critical to them, including Interior Minister Makis Voridis, who voted against a bill allowing gay unions.

Voridis jumped to New Democracy from an extreme-right group and has tried to reshape his former image to be more center-right in line with New Democracy’s platform and now said he supports gay people.

When he was out of power before ousting the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA in July 7, 2019 snap elections, Mitsotakis  – whose chief economic advisor is also gay – backed the civil partnerships law despite opposition from some members of his conservative party and the powerful Greek Orthodox Church.

But the government still hasn’t moved to let gay and lesbian couples marry, adopt children together or the biological children of their partners and Yatromanolakis didn’t say if he would try to change that or just go along for now.

MUSIC TO THEIR EARS

Before entering politics in 2014 as a founding member of the now-defunct centrist party Potami, Yatromanolakis worked in marketing and communications for companies including Microsoft and has a Master’s Degree in public policy from Harvard.

“For a long time … I felt I had to choose and that there were identities that could never be compatible with one another,” said Yatromanolakis, who left To Potami in 2016 and joined the government in 2019.

He said his appointment wasn’t just symbolic or tokenism but will have impact and value for LGBT+ people although he didn’t say what measures he might bring forth to give them further rights.

“People do not understand and see that the (cultural) sector… creates jobs, creates opportunities,” said Yatromanolakis, who used to work for a cultural center housing the country’s national opera and library.

He told Reuters that his priorities in the job included channeling state financial aid to people working in the arts during the pandemic, although the government has stranded thousands of musicians and other peformers without aid during two lockdowns that has kept them from making an income.

Asked what measures the government could take to supportLGBT+ people, Yatromanolakis said he wanted better implementation of existing anti-discrimination laws, including training in private companies and government bodies.

“No person growing up should feel they have to choose between who they are and what they want to become in life,” he said.

“I wish someone else was first before me … (but) if this helps people who have problems because of who they are … then it’s worth it,” he added.

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