Earlier this month Greek Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis reshuffled his government. By all accounts there were no major changes and I, watching from afar, did not recognize the names of the new members and thus I cannot comment on their suitability for office. However, the name of the new deputy minister of culture, Nikos Giatromanolakis, did catch my attention due to extensive media coverage. I learn that he comes from the center of the political spectrum, which assures broad acceptance at least within the governing New Democracy party. He has been educated at well-known and prestigious universities in Greece and the US, and has had enough professional and political experience to warrant his elevation to the new position. He is also – and this is the point that received most of the media coverage – the first openly gay person to serve in a Greek government.
While coverage in the mainstream media, including this newspaper, has been balanced, I did read some nasty comments on social media. Greek society, like most others, is conservative and often homophobic; I understand this as I grew up in the 1970s in the socially conservative environment of provincial Greece. I have been living however for 30 years in a major urban area of the progressive US state of Minnesota, and have been working in academia, an environment tolerant toward people in the LGBQ community. It is that life experience that made me shed the negative stereotypes I held about people who do not look or act like me.
Over the last 20 years I have had many students, colleagues, bosses and friends who are members of the LGBQ community. I have been to their homes and they to mine. I have met their spouses and family and I have come to treasure their friendship and I hope they value mine.
I know Greek society is still conservative, but I also see progress and steps in the right direction. So, kudos to PM Mitsotakis, the leader of Greece’s center-right governing party, for his choice of Giatromanolakis. Coming a year after he nominated the first female president of the Hellenic Republic, the PM is demonstrating his commitment to equality on a number of fronts. I hope Giatromanolakis succeeds in his job, but his success or failure will be due to a number of factors, with his sexual orientation being irrelevant.
At the end of the day all of us want what is best for our country. We have differences of opinion based on political beliefs, and that is natural and healthy, but we should not reject people based on other characteristics. Greece is too small a country and its needs and challenges are too many not to utilize the talents of all its people, regardless of their political beliefs, gender, or, in this case, sexual orientation.
John A. Mazis is a history professor at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He is the author of the book “A Man For All Seasons: The Uncompromising Life of Ion Dragoumis.”