GREECE: The Right to Use the Name ‘Lesbian'

Elisa Mari, Pitt Law '10, files from Athens:

The term lesbian comes from the Greek name of the Aegean Island of Lesvos. The island, known for its beautiful beaches and unspoiled landscapes, is also famous for being the island of the Ancient Greek female poet Sappho. Many scholars believe that Sappho's work was about the sexual love between women, and based on this history, most modern-day homosexual women use the name of Lesvos to describe their orientation.

This is all well and good, except for the fact that there are many other ‘Lesbians', i.e. current inhabitants of the Island of Lesvos, who object to the fact that their name is also one used by homosexual women.

In June, three islanders brought a case against the Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece (OLKE), saying that the use of the word was insulting to their homeland and petitioning the court to ban the use of the term "lesbian" as applied to homosexual women. Islanders appeared on television decrying their fate. One man in particular was very upset saying that it was a disgrace that his sister could no longer call herself a Lesbian due to the current double meaning of the word. In addition to the patriotic claim, many islanders are also upset that the resort of Eresos (the birthplace of Sappho) is an increasingly popular tourist destination for homosexual women. In general, many fear that their island will become known as a resort for homosexuals and are unhappy about that.

On July 22nd, an Athens court rejected these islanders' appeal. In so ruling, the court held that the term "lesbian" did not define the identity of the island's residents, and therefore it could be used by homosexual organizations both in Greece and abroad. One can only wonder what Sappho would think of all this!

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