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Tips on Cops

Cruising Safely in Athens

by Dimitri Tsambrounis

Cruising in parks is a worldwide gay sport of Olympic proportions. It's a combination event that includes the marathon march, a lot of fun, plenty of sweat, a few hurdles, but no medals (as yet…) In a foreign city, it's always good to know what risks you may encounter and how to deal with the local police, so here are some helpful tips. On your marks, get set, go!

Where to cruise

Athenian cruising areas are mainly the park near the Zappeion building, around certain public toilets (at The National Garden, Academias Street for example) and Pedion Areos park - mainly in the South-East area. Information about cruising at the gay "beach", Limanakia, can be found on page 9. Porn cinemas are also an option; see page 9.

Is it safe?

On the whole, cruising spots in Athens are safe, but there have been some incidents of violence in the past. Our advice is to be cautious and avoid poorly lit areas.

What people should I be aware of?

Sometimes small groups of young men try to mug or simply beat up gays in the parks for the fun of it. This is an infrequent phenomenon but it could happen. Don't get too eager about the prospect of 2-3 young men inviting you into the darkness. On occasions, one may chat you up while his mates approach you from behind. Keep calm and move away. On the whole, apply the same caution and common sense as you would under similar circumstances in your home country.

What about the Police in cruising areas?

Police behaviour is very unpredictable. Unlike some other major European cities, the police in Athens don't protect gay men in the parks, on the contrary you may get hassled by police officers. However, as a foreigner things may be easier for you, especially in view of the Olympics.

An official document that can save you a lot of bother

It is obligatory in this country to have some sort of identification on you (ID-card or passport). So keep that with you wherever you go, especially in cruising areas.

Two extremes you may run into if the police stop you

Worst case scenario: You show your ID, but the police insist on you coming with them to the nearest police station for verification. In truth, they are not allowed to do so, but this is what often happens. Ever since the Greek Ombudsman intervened on this matter in the summer of 2003, this practice has changed considerably. However, if you are caught during a sexual act, you may be charged with indecency.

Best case scenario: We have recently heard of the police running into a bunch of men having group sex in Zappeion park, and after merely warning them not to do it again in public, they struck up polite conversation. The men involved weren't even asked to present their ID cards.

If the police approach you Don't run away! Don't panic! Remember, you are not doing anything illegal. Even if you see others running, stay calm and show your ID, if asked. People who run away give the police a reason to suspect them. You don't need to answer any questions except about your identity. You don't need to explain what you are doing there.

What about drugs?

All drugs, including poppers, are illegal. You may be arrested for possessing even a small amount of marijuana.

Olympic Tourism - Olympic Police

The Olympic Games are an exceptional period for the host city. We expect millions of people. Some of them are bound to hit the parks, but can you know in advance what kind of people they will be? We also don't know what kind of orders the police will receive about handling cruising areas.

Will I meet rent boys in park areas?

No, this almost never happens in parks. People don't charge in the park for their fun.

Remember: Homosexuality is not a crime in this country. Neither is walking around in any public place any time of the day or night, nor can you be arrested because of a presumed sexual orientation. If, however, you do experience something unpleasant with the police report it to your embassy, the Greek Ombudsman (210.7289619, 210.7289603), or the Greek Chapter of the Helsinki Watch (210.347.22.59 / office@greekhelsinki.gr).