Thousands of Greeks stand defiant against hate after violent attack on trans people

A huge crowd of LGBTQ+ folks and their allies demonstrated on the streets of Thessaloniki in northern Greece after a violent attack on two trans people at the weekend. 

The thousands-strong crowd gathered in Aristotelous Square – the location of the attack – at around 7pm local time on Sunday (10 March), before marching through the streets of the city chanting, waving Pride flags and carrying banners denouncing fascism, homophobia and transphobia.  

The demonstration saw LGBTQ+ folks, women’s groups, anti-fascist coalitions and student organisers come together to stand in solidarity against hate.

One person at the protest, who wished to remain anonymous, told PinkNews they estimated around 3-4,000 people attended, which was a “large turnout for a gathering that was organised in less than 24 hours”.

The protest was attended by LGBTQ+ folks, women’s groups and anti-fascist groups (@teacherdude on X/Twitter)

During the course of Sunday’s demonstration, the anonymous source described how “there were several clashes between riot police and protesters as protesters marched through the centre of Thessaloniki where cops used tear gas and stun grenades to break up the demo.”

The protest was sparked by events of the previous evening, on Saturday (9 March), when a mob of people wearing black allegedly chased two 21-year-old trans people while verbally abusing them with homophobic slurs and throwing bottles at them.

The victims were forced to seek refuge in a restaurant until police arrived. 

Videos shared on social media show the mob running through the busy square, shouting abuse amid shocked patrons in cafes and restaurants. 

Local reports suggest police detained 25 individuals at the scene, 21 of which were later arrested, including 11 minors and 10 adults.

There was a large police presence at the demonstration (Daphne Tolis on X/Twitter)

Condemning the attack in a statement, the mayor of Thessaloniki, Stelios Angeloudis, said: “Tolerance is a sign of civility and democracy. In the colourful, inclusive Thessaloniki of respect for diversity, there is no place for racist attitudes.”

The attack comes just a week after Greece became the first the first country with a Christian Orthodox majority to legalise same-sex marriage and adoption. Meanwhile, Thessaloniki itself is set to host EuroPride later in the year. 

Steve Taylor – the communications director of European pride organisers Association which is the licensor of EuroPride – told PinkNews hateful incidents such as this highlight why Pride is so important.

“Our thoughts are with the victims of Saturday’s terrifying attack and we stand in solidarity with the many thousands who came out on Sunday to protest,” Taylor said.

“A month on from the jubilant celebrations of equal marriage in Greece, this serves as a reminder that there is still work to do, and this is why EuroPride in Thessaloniki in June will be so important.

“We have visited Thessaloniki Pride several times since 2017 and we have always felt safe and welcomed in the city. Of course, participants in any Pride should always exercise caution, and we are sure that the police and authorities in Thessaloniki will be paying special attention to EuroPride to help keep participants safe.

“In common with all EuroPride hosts, Thessaloniki Pride will publish safety information for visitors on their website as the event approaches.”

Addressing any concerns Pride-goers might have, a spokesperson for Thessaloniki Pride told PinkNews the event has always been seen as very safe because of the “popularity among the local community, the numerous allies and the institutional support that always massively outnumber the opponents”.

They said the “appalling incident” which transpired on Saturday is “unprecedented because it involved a “spontaneously gathered mob that indulged into “social media violence” to show off and reflects the current issues the youth is facing”.

“All the same, security of EuroPride 2024 is of utmost importance for the organisers and the incident has convinced the authorities to pay more attention and be more vigilant, especially during EuroPride manifestations in June,” they added. “It is indicative that the authorities in charge reached out to Thessaloniki Pride, the very next day of the incident.”

Locals carrying a rainbow flag at the demonstration (@teacherdude on X/Twitter)

The attack also comes whilst the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival is taking place in the city, with film festival organisers condemning the incident with “anger and disgust”. 

“The Festival unequivocally condemns every act of homophobic and racist violence, sending a resounding message of tolerance, inclusion, acceptance and visibility, through all its actions: the great Citizen Queer tribute with LGBT+ documentary, discussions and presentations by distinguished speakers, its program, the Mermaid Award, as well as its support at EuroPride,” a statement published on Facebook reads. 

“As we have already stated in the previous days, the Festival rejects acts of hate, violence, extreme voices of intolerance and racism, and is an open platform for art, inclusion and dialogue.”

Speaking with Variety, lesbian activist and filmmaker Maria Katsikadakou said she had been left “angry and terrified” by the assault.

“I thought some things would have changed, but now I wonder, have things changed?” Katsikadakou said.

Also speaking with Variety, artist Fil Ieropoulos said: “With these new laws, we are at a crossroads and we’re going to see what all this really means for Greek society in the next few years.

“I don’t personally think these laws reflect where Greece is as a society. And if anything, this event shows that the fact that some people may benefit from the new laws does not change Greek reality in general and especially for trans people.”

Ieropoulos’ view echoes what the anonymous source has seen following the incident.

“Officially, there has been condemnation of the attack on the couple but on Greek language social media, lot of very virulent anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech, especially on Twitter,” they said.