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Lesbian Festival Flourishes on-Where Else?- Isle of Lesbos

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Sep 14, 2010
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The Island of Lesbos has hosted the International Women’s Festival for ten years, growing from a tiny event that drew the ire of local politicians to a major celebration drawing women from around the world--and putting cash into the coffers of local businesses hard hit by Greece’s economic woes and the global recession.

This year’s festival takes place Sept. 7-15. The annual event is located in a village called Eressos, reported British newspaper the Daily Telegraph on Sept. 14. Women come to the festival to see lesbian themed films, take workshops, and enjoy a place of their own.

The locals have no problems with the event--not any longer. Ten years ago, it was a different story, with the mayor or Eressos threatening legal action against the event. Despite such initial hostility, however, the event has survived and flourished.

The article noted that the island, located in the Aegean Sea, has become a tourist destination for gay women ever since the 1970s. The term "lesbian" comes from the island’s name; the celebrated female poet Sappho, who lived in the 7th century B.C.E., was born on the island about 2,600 years ago. Her name has also come to refer to same-sex female eros, which is now termed "sapphic." The name of the island is also that of an ancient Greek God, according to a Wikipedia article.

If the cultural appeal (and the sunny, warm climate) is attractive to the event’s participants, the economic incentives have endeared the festival to local business. "My rooms are full for the next two weeks," one local innkeeper said. "We’d usually be dead in September, but now it’s booming."

An IOL.com version of the same article noted that bronze statues of Sappho and rainbow flags are common sights in the village. Women holding hands have also become commonplace.

The article contrasted this cultural oasis against Greek law, which offers comparatively little protection or recognition to GLBT individuals and families. Greek society has a strong, religiously motivated anti-gay streak, the article indicated. An Associated Press article from July 23, 2008, reported that a suit brought buy several residents of Lesbos tried to ban use of the word "lesbian" to refer to female homosexuality. A Greek court threw out the suit.

But there have been signs of change in recent years. In 2005, the country’s first Pride parade took place in Athens; that same year, a federal law took effect in Greece to protect GLBT workers from on the job discrimination.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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