Things we don’t talk about

We all belong to different societies, religions, communities and cultures. Many of us here have come from abroad. Every culture is peppered with unwritten rules. But in my country, Afghanistan, everything works differently. For example, feminism doesn’t exist. A woman has no right to question a man! If a man tries to support women’s rights, society starts to question his gender and labels him homosexual. Because of this narrow-minded society, a lot of Afghans left the country and passed through the gates of Europe for a better life. They’ve changed country, but what about their thoughts and minds? Are they still the same? YES! Because they grew up in communities where boys are taught that women belong in the kitchen. I think it is time to tell them that this is Europe. Here, we all have the right to believe in what we want to believe, to keep our religion or change it if we want, to enjoy gender equality.

Men have always played a critical role in the feminist movement, on the other hand men still dominate positions of power. As a string of recent harassment scandals has shown, the behaviour of some men has had a profound effect on women’s careers, their success and their lives. I have witnessed a lot of abuse in the camp in the last 4 weeks, while we have been in quarantine. I talked to some of the men about the situation and their answers were disappointing. And yet, the vast majority of men in our community agree… What they don’t realise is that things really can change.

Back in September 2019 I was preparing to join a demonstration for Zak’s death organized by Justice for Zak / Zackie in downtown Athens, when a couple of young Afghans asked me what was going on. I explained exactly what had happened in 2018 and they got really interested and joined the demonstration with me. All we need to do is explain. Οur people don’t know that we have rights too, human rights. Our people are often scared to make a move. We all have the right to meet our friends and work together in peace to defend our rights. Nobody can make us join a group if we don’t want to. We have the right to make up our own minds, to think what we like, to say what we think, and to share our ideas with other people. I think everyone in my community and from my country is ready to know who Zak Kostopoulos was!

Zak was a Greek LGTBQI+ activist and HIV positive person who volunteered for the organisation “Positive Voice”, while writing articles online and in newspapers on issues related to human rights. He had also served as president of the Greek Gay/Lesbian Community, and stood for municipal councilor in the 2014 local elections. In recent years he had performed in drag shows in Athens as the character Zackie Oh.

In Afghanistan, a male with pierced ears is taboo. A man who dresses in women’s clothes and performs before an audience is not considered talented or entertaining. Ιt is a prohibition for them. Their family would disown the son and he might even be stoned to death. People are not born homophobes, they’re taught homophobia.

Yet what happened to Zak Kostopoulos was exactly the same that happens in Afghanistan: he was brutally beaten to death in Europe, in a free country, where we have human rights. Here we supposedly have rights. That is why every year thousands of people gather to ask JUSTICE FOR ZAK KOSTOPOULOS. As those who knew him well will attest, his memory still inspires feelings of warmth. His life was not short on challenges and he didn’t get on with everyone, but he lived life to the fullest, when he left this world on 21 September 2018, he closed his eyes forever in the place he called home, Athens.

Morteza Rahimi