Greek court considers Lesbos vs lesbians case

ATHENS (Reuters Life!) - A Greek court is considering a request by residents of the Aegean island of Lesbos to ban use of the word lesbian as a term to describe gay women, a court official said on Wednesday.

Shi tou (not her real name), a lesbian, is seen in front of a rainbow flag during a campaign to promote the acceptance of homosexuality in Beijing February 14, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Three Lesbos residents brought the case, arguing that the use of the term “lesbian” in reference to gay women insults their identity.

The island of Lesbos, off the Turkish coast, is the birthplace of the ancient Greek poet Sappho, whose love poems inspired the term lesbian. The island has become a mecca for gay women the world over.

“The court heard both sides and will deliver a ruling on the case in two months at the latest,” said a court official who declined to be named.

The plaintiffs, who argue the northern Aegean island’s residents are the only true Lesbians, told the court the dispute was over identity and not sexuality.

“Gay women have every right to define themselves as they wish, but they don’t have the right to appropriate our national identity,” Lesbos resident Ioannis Achlioptas said.

At the packed courtroom, one of the islanders wore a badge that read “I am Paul and I am a Lesbian” and later unfurled a banner which read “If you are not from Lesbos, you are not a Lesbian”.

“I have a hard time explaining to my daughter that we Lesbians are not homosexuals. My mother, my sister and my daughter are all Lesbians and it’s incredible the amount of ridicule they suffer because of this,” Achlioptas told the court.

Evangelia Vlami, representing the Gay and Lesbian Community of Greece, said such fears of ridicule were unfounded.

“Let’s stop playing around with words, protests like this are nothing but prejudiced. The term can be used by both sides without insulting anyone,” she said.

An attorney for the defense argued not all Lesbos residents were embarrassed and many saw the term as beneficial.

“The term has been used worldwide for centuries and has even helped the island, boosting tourism,” said defense witness Themistocles Kefalas. “My daughter has no problem being called a Lesbian, even though she’s not a lesbian.”

Reporting by Renee Maltezou, editing by Paul Casciato