A Rainbow Welcome: Seeing Queerness in My First Few Days in Greece

A light breeze drifts through the streets of Oia, tugging on the loose linen clothing mannequins and locals alike are cloaked in. The branches of the few trees scattered throughout the sea of white huts and blue domes sway in the wind, their violet flowers gently bobbing up and down. The breeze is a welcome addition; the street I was slowly forcing my way down was packed with tourists and there was no shade to shield any of us from the wrath of the Greek sun. 

Though I was hot and sweaty, along with everyone else in the churning sea of people I found myself in, I could not help but marvel at the beauty amidst all the chaos around me. To my left was the bay the city is situated around. Much of Oia is built into the cliffside of this bay, buildings dotting the landscape all the way down to the sparkling turquoise sea, more cliffs in the distance. To my right were shops and restaurants catering to every tourist’s possible need. Clothing, pottery, jewelry, coffee, pastries, and gyros were all sold within a few feet of each other. 


Despite the beauty of the city and its landscape yanking my eyes a hundred different ways, one thing I could not fail to notice about Oia was the open expression of queerness from many of the people visiting and those who live there. Rainbow paraphernalia in all of its forms—sunglasses, hats, shorts, tank tops—popped up wherever I turned. More than that, gay couples holding hands passed by me or watched as I passed by them and their table at one of the many restaurants on the main road. Never before had I been surrounded by as many fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community as I was during my stay in Santorini.

Growing up in the Bible Belt (Tennessee, for those wondering), queerness is something often hidden in public, in one form or another, whether it be unconscious or purposeful. Whenever going out with my boyfriend, either on dates or just to shop and get something to eat, neither of us have ever been able to bring ourselves to do something as simple as hold the other person’s hand. Sure, our city has a pride festival and for the month of June some businesses put out flags and other rainbow decorations, but for 11 months of the year we don’t feel at home in the city we grew up in. It is heartening to see that not everywhere is like that. It is inspiring to see queer couples act as straight couples do so casually. More than this, my brief stay in Santorini gave me hope for the rest of my study abroad experience. I won’t be staying in Santorini for my study abroad, rather, I will be spending the fall in Athens. However, my time among those picturesque white houses and blue roofs allowed me to get a taste of how welcoming and accepting Greek culture is. 

Andrew Thayer is a student at University of Tennessee – Knoxville and an ISA Identity & Inclusion blogger. He is studying with ISA in Athens, Greece this fall. 

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