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Make sense of... LGBT prides and rights

As the first LGBT pride events of the year get under way, we take stock of the situation for lesbian, gay, bi and trans people in France

25 April 2018
Something tells me that we're home at last...
By Oliver Rowland

Like many capitals, Paris has a large LGBT pride event attracting thousands of participants and spectators – not so surprising, you may think; it is a cosmopolitan city with a long history of tolerance.

What you may not know is that dozens of provincial towns have parades too, such as Angers and Grenoble on May 26 (see below for more details).

France was not always so gay-friendly… A plaque at the corner of rue Montorgueil and rue Bachaumont in Paris commemorates the last men executed for homosexuality, burned to death at what is now place de l’Hôtel de Ville in 1750.

Homosexuality was legalised in 1791 – 175 years before the UK – and France’s comparative tolerance was one reason Britons such as Oscar Wilde took refuge here. The Vichy regime then raised the gay age of consent to 21 before it was equalised with heterosexual people again in 1982.

While France may have been more welcoming than the UK it was only in 1981 that it declassified homosexuality as a mental illness. A generally relaxed attitude among the public is also fairly recent and by no means universal, as seen in the large marches by the conservative ‘Manif pour tous’ against equal marriage rights in 2013.

Many cities  have LGBT associations, often sharing a centre where they organise events and hold drop-in sessions. Nice’s (centrelgbt06.fr) hosts over 20 events, ranging from rights activism and support, to culture, sport or social activities. Centre president, Erwann Le Hô said: “Unde­niably over the last 30 years we’ve seen progress. From being outcasts in the post-war period, LGBT people have acquired a certain number of rights so some of us are now well-integrated.

“We may cite legalisation in 1982 and des­truc­tion of the police files [that had been held on homosexual people since the Second World War], the Pacs in 1989, laws against homophobia most re­cently [criminalising homophobic insults] in 2004 and the opening up of ‘mariage for all’ in the Loi Taubira. There are still things to be done on family rights, but I hope­ the right to use fertility treatments [PMA, procréation médicalement assistée] will be opened up under Macron.

“Now the main focus is trans people’s rights. Their issues were poorly-understood, inclu­ding within the LGBT community, until 10 years ago. Now it’s no longer an ‘emerging’ topic but a key part of the debate.

“Trans people are part of our associative life, their demands are at the top of our demands, and I think the media’s treatment of the subject is a lot better than 15 years ago.”

The law is also evolving for this group, including making it simpler for trans people to change their first name plus less rigid rules on legal gender change. For the latter it is no lon­ger essential to be ‘sterilised’ [ie. to have had certain operations including removal of testes or ovaries] but the law still requires people to go to court.

“We should continue to call for the right to change your état civil [name, gender...] in a way that’s simple, fast and free, as it is in some parts of the world,” said Mr Le Hô.

“So it’s a country that’s progressed, but there’s still work to be done. I think it will happen because we’re on the right side of history but we should remain vigilant, because we see some countries closing in on themselves, with more conservative attitudes – trying to reintroduce anti-abortion laws – so progress is not irreversible.” The practice of holding pride parades, which are at the same time festive and militant [with banners and placards on rights issues] dates from the Stonewall riots in 1969, when LGBT people in New York fought back against a police raid on the Stonewall Inn. A commemorative parade was held in 1970 and the idea spread, with cities organising events in the summer including a parade, often with floats pum­ping out music on the back of flatbed trucks at larger events.

In France they started in Paris in 1981, with several other cities following in the 1990s. Mr Le Hô said: “Thirty years ago you could only live openly with your sexuality in Paris.

 “Since then we saw the emergence, in large towns, of associations that have opened LGBT centres and created prides. Especially since the 2010s what is interesting is to see prides in medium-sized towns like Laval [Pays-de-la-Loire], which has an LGBT centre that runs brilliantly, or Arras, which also has its pride and an association with year-round drop-in sessions.

“There are still corners of France where it is difficult, but today you can’t just say if you live outside a city it’s difficult.”

He said support from councils towards the associations is often good and mostly not dependent on their politics.

“There again, the picture is more complex now. A few years ago it was essentially the left that supported us but today it’s less the case. In Nice [right-wing Les Répu­blicains] it works well, similarly in Bor­deaux, where Alain Juppé [LR] is mayor. Our voice is heard and councillors come to our events.”

• Pride dates include – June 2:  Lille, Le Mans, Caen, Bordeaux; June 9: Toulouse, Stras­bourg, Arras, Nantes; June 16: Rouen, Rennes, Lyon; June 30: Paris; July 7: Marseille; July 21: Mont­pellier. Nice is still finalising its date (usually July or August).

• See the June edition for more about Paris’ pride parade.

• For further information see: sos-homophobie.org (which campaigns against homophobia); asso-contact.org (which promotes dialogue between LGBT people and parents, families and friends), le-refuge.org (which helps young LGBT people who are rejected by their families) and national umbrella bodies inter-lgbt.org and federation-lgbt.org.

The image here was drawn by artist Perry Taylor. For more of his work see www.perrytaylor.fr

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