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U.S.-Born Greek LGBTQ Activist Killed in Athens

The Athens queer community is reeling from the death of Zak Kostopoulos, a United States-born Greek LGBTQ and HIV rights activist and drag performer. Kostopoulos, 33, died Friday, September 22 after a violent incident at a jewelry store. The owner of the store as well as another storeowner have been charged in connection with the death.

The two men face charges including inflicting lethal harm resulting in death as well as misdemeanor charges for causing grievous bodily harm, reports The Greek Observer.

The investigation into Kostopoulos’ death and the circumstances surrounding it is ongoing.

A video of the attack has circled Greek media and has made the social media rounds as well. It seems to show Kostopoulos attempting to break the glass door of the jewelry store on Gladstonos Street, close to Omonia Square, with a fire extinguisher. After he manages to shatter part of it, the video shows him trying to crawl out while men are inside kicking him.

When Kostopoulos is able to leave the store, he is shown lying on the ground while people gather around him. He eventually walks away only for the police to seemingly roughly handcuff him. The police are also seen kicking Kostopoulos. He’s then whisked away on a stretcher. Kostopoulos died in the ambulance while being taken to the hospital.

According to NBC News, it was the men arrested and charged that were reportedly seen kicking Kostopoulos.

On Monday, a forensic test found Kostopoulos’ death inconclusive, but other autopsy results will be released later this week.

Nikos Kalogrias, a coroner in Athens, told local news outlet Kathimerini that Kostopoulos’ body did not show “injuries that justify death.”

“He has some bruises across his body—small injuries which alone do not cause death—so we continue with further laboratory examinations,” he added.

NBC News reported that initial news stories described Kostopoulos as having had a knife and attempting to rob the store. Friends and activists have disputed this. One Greek activist, Gregory Vallianatos, wrote on Facebook that Kostopoulos had actually gone into the store trying to find help after a fight happened in the cafe he was at.

“He entered the shop without a weapon, without a mask, and without gloves. What robber enters a shop to steal like that?” Efthimios Kostopoulos, Zak’s father, said this week according to To Vima. The elder Kostopoulos had come from the U.S. for his son’s funeral on Tuesday.

The jewelry storeowner says he acted out of self-defense, reported the outlet.  

Kostopoulos’ family’s lawyer, Anna Paparoussou, gave an interview to Greece’s Omnia TV, where she claimed that without the video being recorded, there might have not been any investigation into the incident that claimed Kostopoulos’s life.

“If the video did not exist, the case might have closed,” she told the outlet. Paparoussou explained that there were no testimonies taken at the scene and that the police appeared to have made no attempt to gather evidence after the incident.

A preliminary investigation into the behavior of the police has been opened, according to Kathimerini.

A group Kostopoulos had worked with, Positive Voice, released a statement (in Greek) calling out the social problems that have been highlighted in Greek media over Kostopoulos’ death, as well as calling out Greek media for its handling of the death and Kostopoulos’ memory.

Friends and family gathered on Tuesday to remember Kostopoulos in his home village of Kira, PinkNews reports. The outlet says that instead of the Greek tradition of throwing dirt onto the coffin, people threw glitter.

“In the end the grave wasn’t brown anymore, it was pink and blue and purple, shiny glitter everywhere, tiny gay flags everywhere,” Christina Michalou, a journalist and friend of Kostopoulos told PinkNews, adding that even wigs were thrown onto the coffin by some of the drag queens. Kostopoulos’ own drag persona was Zackie Oh.

Michalou remembered Kostopoulos as a brave activist who was one of the first to come out as HIV-positive and work to educate others on what it means to live with HIV. She told the outlet that the funeral ended up being something Kostopoulos would have been happy to see: people from different generations and different identifies coming together.

“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 told PinkNews. “That was his funeral…”


Alex Cooper