Courageous Citizens: Thomas Diafas

In the series with our 2018 Courageous Citizens grantees we spreak to Thomas Diafas, founder and director of the Thessaloniki Queer Arts Festival.

What was your idea about?
Our idea is to explore how the Thessaloniki Queer Arts Festival can create a long-term change in entrenched misconceptions and prejudice towards the queer and LGBT community through art and cultural activities. With the research and development grant, we wanted to cultivate strategic partnerships within the local police, schools and church and by creating an educational program and cultural activities, eliminate discrimination. 

How did your participation in the workshop help you?
During my workshop in Croatia we got inspired to use the visual material of the Festival in order to raise awareness. Our graphic designer created a series of empty posters were hundreds of students, artists, citizens and groups, intervened in order to document their thoughts and feelings about 'what is eros' and posting them in public spaces, creating this way a contemporary manifesto of human thoughts and feelings.

photo: performance by Petros Konnaris,  "Kiss or Touch" June 15th, 2019, courtesy of Thessaloniki Queer Arts Festival,

photo: performance by Petros Konnaris, "Kiss or Touch" June 15th, 2019, courtesy of Thessaloniki Queer Arts Festival,

Did you encounter difficulties in realizing the first steps of your project? Did you overcome those?
We would have benefited from having the ability to invite more international artists, activists and educators to help us during the development of our research, but we couldn’t do so due to the lack of funds. We met with a lot of people, researchers and artists alike, who were very willing to help us create something really meaningful and impactful, but we could not get them as involved as they could have been due to our limited resources. Nevertheless, we made strong connections with key collaborators and we found alternative ways of working together, and in our next steps this will play an important role.

Our main problem was that due to the lack of funds we were not able to found an NGO in Greece for our organisation, and therefore we were not eligible to apply for most funding opportunities from other trusts and foundations. Therefore, we are designing a new strategic plan for the months to come, and we hope to gain the funds necessary to support our cause and to help us become an official body.

As in all projects small moments of “glory” confirm you in your belief you are doing the right thing. What was yours?
The moment of glory came after the end of the first step of the project, while receiving messages saying "so, what's next?".

And what was the biggest moment of surprise?
The biggest surprise was that there were so many people that wanted to collaborate with us but at the same time, there was so much fear that finally we couldn't do all that we wanted to. Even though we tried to inspire safety and trust, the lack of knowledge and the barriers the greek laws put to us individuals, made us step back and to not proceed some of our collaborations. This is why our next festival's theme is the answer "What is fear?".

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I bet you did imagine your project in its’ most successful form: did you achieve what you dreamt of?
Our success was that even though we were not an official NGO, but simply some courageous citizens we managed to gain access to many of the resources we needed, and collected the information we wanted for our research in order to continue our work. From August 2018 to June 2019 we worked very intensely and met numerous many people from different backgrounds. Indicative of this is that during our Exhibition Preview Evening, we had an audience of more than 500 attendees. 

Do you have any plans for the future?
What we are planning for the next few months is a series of public events that aim to inspire safety in alternative places around the city and inform audiences about our initiative. Also, we are continuing our collaboration with local educators, artists, individuals and groups, in order to design more educational meetings. By engaging and involving children, artists and educators in our projects, we are investing in long-term change and attitude shifting. We want to expand our power to the Balkans and inspire by collaborating with our allies there, to reach their goals. Our next aim is to get the fund to create a hub, our base, that is going to function like an incubator where we will give birth and host our dreams