On Thursday, April 4th the French Senate held its first debate on President Francois Hollande’s sweepingly progressive gay marriage bill, largely expected to pass this summer even though a similar bill failed in 2011, which will offer gays and lesbians the full benefits of marriage — including the right to adopt children. Two days later Wilfred de Bruijn was brutally attacked in the 19th Arrondissement of Paris in an aggressive and unfortunate act of homophobic violence. He was walking arm-to-arm with his partner Olivier at the time, an act that presumably prompted the attackers.
Hours later de Brujin shared the gruesome photo of his injuries via Facebook, calling it “the face of homophobia”:
Most see the attack as having a direct correlation to the proposed gay marriage bill, which has literally split France, a largely Catholic country, and lowered President Hollande’s approval rating to as low as 27%. This, even though slightly more than half of France approves gay marriage. And as for the other half? In a country that loves to dissent, there have been record protests against gay marriage, including recent ones in Paris that drew 1.4 million people.
The same weekend of de Bruijn’s attack, an LGBT Fair in the Marais, the Jewish-cum-gay district in the center of the city, was vandalized with number of anti-gay marriage posters.
After de Bruijn’s attack, Elizabeth Ronzier, President of SOS Homophobie, a French gay rights group, said that incidents like these are terribly “shocking” and “incredibly violent.” “We have seen a thirty percent rise in the number of homophobic incidents since October. This is a result of the opposition towards the gay marriage bill.”
What could possibly explain the recent explosion of anti-gay bigotry, violence, and ignorance in France? It can’t just be the marriage bill. After all, this is the same country that has produced some of the most important queer philosophers and thinkers, including Didier Eribon, Michel Foucault and Guy Hocquenghem, the same country that installed national domestic partnerships in 1999, the same country that freaked out when the far right wing conservative Jean Marie Le Pen made it to the second round of the French presidential elections in 2002, prompting even more protests, and finally the same country that made abortions free last week.
Gay visibility is always a political act. Yet the most troubling thing about the story, however, is the sense of victim blaming — the sense that it is Olivier’s and Wilfred’s fault for stepping out as gay. Protesters against gay marriage in France don’t see that their protests contribute directly to acts of violence like these. More than one person who takes a stance against gay marriage describes themselves as non-homophobic yet fail to see how their point of view, as well as it’s extremely viral nation-wide visibility, can lead to the physical harm of others.
All instances of homophobia or hatred based on sexuality need to be condemned and reprimanded, and anyone who doesn’t condemn these acts or take responsibility of them has a woefully short term memory. Protesting for a cause you believe in is one thing, but beating someone up because you don’t agree with certain biological facts about them is scary and a whole other issue that reminds us of our sordid past, not to mention the vigorously violent efforts to control racial categories that define — often literally — every ethnic group. Unfortunately there is no 100% safe place for gays or lesbians to escape to, not in big cities like Paris or New York which many young gays dream of flocking to, and not even in our small towns. The thing I don’t understand about the French gay marriage debate and protests, however, is that there seems to be a lot of young people supporting the anti-gay marriage position which is seemingly the opposite chez nous.
A protest against homophobia will take place this Wednesday, April 10th at 8 p.m. in the Marais. If you can make it, go — especially if you are anti-gay marriage.