According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, some residents of the Greek island of Lesbos are suing the Greek Gay and Lesbian Union to force that organization to stop using the term “lesbian” to refer to women who prefer sex with women.
The reason that the term “lesbian” came to be synonymous with “gay woman” dates back to the seventh and sixth century BC and the Greek poet Sappho, who lived on the island of Lesbos. Sappho wrote some of the most passionate love poetry in history. Most of that poetry is lost to antiquity, but the fragments that remain have established her reputation as one of the greatest poets of the classical age. Plato himself is said to have declared Sappho to be the tenth muse. The Roman poet Cattulus borrowed heavily from her works.
Sappho also loved both men and women, which is indicated by some of her poetry that praises the charms of lovers of both sexes. Sappho has become a role model for lesbian women throughout the ages.
There is a tradition, dating from Victorian times, that Sappho was a teacher at a school for young women. Other scholars have suggested that Sappho’s “circle” was more like a combination of a religious band and a literary society.
The term “lesbian”, as meaning a woman who is sexually attracted solely to women, dates back at least to the 18th Century. By the late twentieth century “lesbian” became common usage for gay woman.
The law suit against the Greek Gay and Lesbian Union appears to be the brainchild of a local activist named Dimitris Lambrou who claims that the national identity of his island has been usurped by gay women. He points out that many straight women who are residents of Lesbos are too embarrassed to refer to themselves as lesbians.
Nevertheless the island of Lesbos is a favored vacation destination for lesbian (i.e. gay) women. The resort town of Eressos, reported to be Sappho’s home town, is especially favored among gay female holiday seekers.
Lambrou also denies that Sappho was gay or bisexual and to suggest that she was is an insult to all women of Lesbos. Lambrou is the publisher of a small magazine on Greek pagan religion and technology and is also a frequent critic of the Christian Church.
Lambrou and the two other plaintiffs, both women, are suing the Greek Gay and Lesbian Union because it is the only Greek gay group to use the word “lesbian” in its name. The case will be heard in an Athens court in June.
Sources: Islanders Want Legal Right to be “True Lesbians, Telegraph, April 30th, 2008