For most Americans, say “Greece” and white-and-blue images of its most beautiful destinations come to mind. The iconic history of Athens; the perfect streets of Santorini; the idyllic beaches of Mykonos.
But for Greece’s roughly 120,000 asylum seekers and 50,000 refugees, Greece isn’t a vacation destination; it is a sole hope for survival. For those fleeing violence, destruction, and political strife from countries like Syria, Greece stands as the point of entry to the rest of Europe, and a door to a safer, more comfortable life.
As actor and filmmaker Gerald McCullouch points out – freshly returned to the States from a visit Greece – refugees and asylum seekers are viewed as a single entity, their individuality lost to biases against newcomers.
“I feel that there’s been a global anti-immigrant anti-refugee stance,” McCullouch said, “and everyone is seeing them as a blanket community that is somehow threatening to them, not realizing that we’re all the same man.”
Oftentimes, LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers are overlooked completely, left without resources, contacts, or money in a country they may not be allowed to leave.
This community of LGBTQ migrants and the struggles they face are the focuses of McCullouch’s newest film, “Stuck in Greece,” which is premiering at Out On Film September 27.
Production for “Stuck in Greece” was spurred by McCullouch’s 2016 visit to Greece for his first feature film “Daddy.” After attending a panel of LGBTQ refugees, McCullouch was shocked and intrigued; their stories were harrowing, and their plight entirely unknown to him. Taking up his phone – from which much of “Stuck in Greece” was shot – and going into streets and homes and camps guerrilla-style, a film began to come together.
What unfurled over the following years, after initial shots and through global lockdown over COVID-19, was an amalgamation of stories and a strong portrait of what life as an LGBTQ migrant from the Middle East is truly like.
“[My subjects are] getting away from their families, getting away from their countries, paying smugglers to get them to a different country where they have to learn a completely different language to even get by,” McCullouch said. “And they don’t get the comfort or support that many refugees from the Middle East get when they stay in refugee camps–where there’s food options, places to do laundry, places to bathe themselves.”
Throughout his multi-year journey with “Stuck in Greece,” moving alongside his subjects’ lives and watching the world around him change, McCullouch remained disappointingly surprised at how relevant the LGBTQ migrant crisis – and the migrant crisis in Greece overall – remained.
Fifty hours of footage, condensed down to the film’s hour-and-40-minute runtime, tell of the horrors that LGBTQ migrants face: being imprisoned, refused help, attacked, and even killed. Choosing which moments, which stories, and which interviewed subjects to include was difficult, almost impossible. In the end, discrimination, harassment, poverty, and desperation tie together most of the lives “Stuck in Greece” features.
“I feel like the film is so dense in content,” McCullouch explained, “that I wanted it to be like a nonstop whirlwind, because that’s what it was for me. Over time, I learned about what these people are running from; what they’re escaping, and how they got there; what they’re facing once they arrive in Greece; the fact that they can’t live in the camps, because the camps are filled with the same people they’re running from.”
Shining light on the stories of LGBTQ refugees, often without access to a platform to share their experiences, McCullouch paid special care to raise the voices of some of the most at-risk members of the refugee communities in Greece today.
“[I focused] especially on the journeys of transgender refugees,” McCullouch said. “What they go through being on that boat to get to some Greek islands, and being surrounded by people that throw them overboard or take violent actions to them.”
Watching the lives of McCullouch’s subjects unfold in the years since 2016, viewers can see “Stuck in Greece” as a time capsule – a moment of global LGBTQ history preserved to show how LGBTQ rights and acceptance has progressed in some ways and begun backsliding in others. Where Grecian NGOs for LGBTQ refugees were nonexistent on the outset of McCullouch’s filming, post-COVID they exist.
For McCullouch, filming, editing, and releasing “Stuck in Greece” has been an opportunity for growth and new perspective on the world of LGBTQ history he’s immersed himself since he was young.
“After each of these interviews, after hearing their stories, things I hadn’t even imagined, or things I’ve only heard about, I was left with such a sense of awe regarding the courage that each of these people had to really take action, and in not only finding freedom and safety, but in changing their lives,” he said.
Returning to Atlanta in a few weeks for the film’s premiere in the same parking lot that he finished post-production, McCullouch hopes that, above all, people can find understanding, respect, and genuine human connection to his subjects.
“I think the world could really just use some more empathy right now.”
Hunter Buchheit is an Atlanta-based writer who covers LGBTQ leaders, LGBTQ rights, Georgia politics, and issues affecting young people. His work has appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Them, and Teen Vogue.