Keeping Up with Frank

Ignorance and Fear Fuel Arson in Athens

April 18, 2019

Last month, a group of vandals targeted the offices of a Greek organization that provides HIV testing to not only the LGBTQ community in Athens, but to vulnerable refugee populations living in shelters and working in the sex trade. The vandals tore down a rainbow pride flag flying from the first-floor balcony, broke into the office, doused the room with gasoline and set it on fire. It was a cowardly attack, fueled by hate and a lack of understanding.

The targeted organization, called Positive Voice, does important life-saving work that affects some of the most vulnerable people in Greece. Many of those people have given up everything to migrate to Europe from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. Some of them – including minors – end up working in the sex trade out of sheer desperation. Positive Voice, which the Giustra Foundation proudly supports, helps keep them safe and healthy through HIV testing, education and counselling.

The Foundation’s funding was originally earmarked for the expansion of a day centre and the purchase of a mobile STD testing unit, but we were able to quickly adjust our agreement with Positive Voice to help them cover the costs of repairs at their Athens office, called Checkpoint. Our agility, flexibility, and rapid response to the situation allowed Positive Voice to continue their important work without too much delay. It is something that sets us apart from larger, slow-moving NGOs, and makes me very proud. 

Positive Voice continued its HIV and STD testing in a van outside the burned offices and defiantly hung a new pride flag outside their office the next day.

“The perpetrators of the attack did not simply try to burn a building,” Positive Voice said in a statement. “With the incendiary materials of intimidation and violence, they tried to silence a strong voice defending human rights and choking off the humanitarian values and ideals that we are advocating.

“Our response it timelessly clear. We will not let the fear feed the monster.”

Checkpoint, which is a joint initiative of Positive Voice and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation of Europe, conducts more than 100,000 free, anonymous HIV tests each year and diagnoses about 30 per cent of all HIV cases in Greece annually. Positive Voice recently bought a mobile unit that is used primarily in Thessaloniki, where there is a large refugee population. The mobile unit enables workers to visit refugee shelters, where they educate people on safer sex and conduct on-site blood tests.

This work is saving lives. Scare tactics, vandalism and hateful acts can't put a stop to it.