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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 28, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 39
LGBT activist murdered in Athens
Section One
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LGBT activist murdered in Athens

Funeral shows outpouring of love and support

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

LGBT activist and drag queen Zak Kostopoulos was buried in the Greek village of Kirra on September 26. Kostopoulos himself was born in the US, but the village was his ancestral home and the place he grew up after his parents returned to their native country.

Kostopoulos was murdered on September 21 in downtown Athens, under circumstances that are still being investigated.

It is traditional in Greece to throw handfuls of dirt on the coffin, but mourners threw glitter instead.

'In the end, the grave wasn't brown anymore, it was pink and blue and purple, shiny glitter everywhere, tiny gay flags everywhere,' Kostopoulos' friend, journalist Christina Michalou, told the British website PinkNews.

'Some drag queens threw their wigs in the grave too.'

Michalou said that Kostopoulos would have been touched to see such a gathering of different people from all walks of life.

'Once, Zak said his biggest dream was to create a time and place in which everyone would coexist in absolute peace and union, even for a little bit,' she said.

'That was his funeral. Conservative parents, drag queens in huge heels, people who just met him, new in the community, barely 19 years old, old villagers who used to know him as a child, people expressing their grief in strict black and people expressing it in rainbow dresses, transgender girls holding hands with grandparents who never left their tiny village in their lives.

'All these people, so different, with absolutely nothing in common, and they all kept hugging each other, overseeing what makes them different to unite in what makes them the same. Zak.

'I really wish he could see that. I really wish he could know his dream came true.'

Kostopoulos died in horrific, but unexplained, circumstances. Cell phone videos of the incident show him apparently trapped inside a small shop, trying to break down the glass door with a fire extinguisher. Eventually he managed to break a shop window and crawl out, but he was immediately attacked by two older men who kicked him repeatedly.

The two, who have been arrested by Greek police, have been tentatively identified as the owner of the store in which Kostopoulos seemed to be trapped, and the owner of a shop across the street. They have been charged with manslaughter.

Kostopoulos managed to escape from the two shopkeepers but was apparently assaulted by other people in the crowd gathered around the shop. Some people in the crowd then intervened to protect him, but police at the scene did nothing.

Later cell phone photos show Kostopoulos handcuffed on a police gurney. He subsequently died at the hospital where he was taken by police.

Kostopoulos' reason for being in the shop is unknown. Initial police reports said he entered the shop armed with a knife, intending to rob it, but witnesses at the scene said he fled there after a brawl broke out nearby.

The cause of death is also unknown. Initial autopsy reports indicate minor injuries that should not have been fatal.

Authorities say they are continuing to investigate, but Greek activists said they had little confidence in the police, who are widely believed to be linked to the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn.

According to a 2014 report from Amnesty International, Greek police have a long history of ignoring crimes targeting minority groups, including the LGBT community.

Greek attorney Anna Paparousou, who represents Kostopoulos' family, told the Greek station Omnia TV that the coroner's report failed to identify a clear cause of death, but it did report brain swelling, the cause of which is yet to be determined. She added that no eyewitnesses have come forward to testify and that the police have failed to record the beating in its report of the incident.

Paparousou credited the existence of the video with bringing the mob attack to light.

'If the video did not exist, the case might have been closed. No violence would have been recorded by anyone,' she said.

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