Queering Democracy In France

BY KELLY JEAN COGSWELL | Seems like whenever you demand LGBT rights in a democracy, some asshole declares, “It’s a free country. You can do whatever you want inside your home. Why do you have to impose it on me?” Then they call you a fascist and sometimes cap things off with the advice, “Go back where you came from.” Which seems nuts at first, but has a certain twisted logic, since all hate’s drawn from the same poisoned well, and our sense of freedom is related to physical space.

Democracy’s most important battleground is always public, because freedom’s not freedom in private, no matter how many stories you read about visionaries and mystics who find liberation behind the iron doors of a cell. For most of us, the outside world doesn’t go away when we close our eyes. It’s piped directly past our apartment walls and into our brains, where we have to resist a constant broadcast of sneers and threats that aren’t empty at all.

Even after decades of fighting back, I take up less space than I should because I know too well that whenever we attempt to escape from our personal jails, even with assumed names and false identities, we still have to face the thought police, the unofficial cops of the existing order. We’ve all seen their victims. From the dyke who couldn’t find a job to the transwoman grabbed to play a little stop and frisk.

The forces of law and disorder are on high alert now in France, where the status quo is threatened by a bill to make marriage legal for same-sex couples. At first, they carefully projected the image of the happy traditional family, filling the streets with smiling moms and grinning, freshly scrubbed kids — many carted to the big cities by transportation paid for by Catholic monies and marching under banners of fake associations — but the mask has started slipping.

Faced with defeat, the hundreds of thousands of people marching against same-sex marriage are doing it increasingly under truly fascist banners. Their demand? That France return to the country of yore where the Church ruled over everything and everybody knew their place. Though in case you think it’s just those damn Catholics, the chief rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, known for plagiarizing some of his right-wing rants, has once again borrowed liberally for his latest anti-gay work.

More than the rhetoric is getting violent. During a recent march, members of the opposition party decided to engineer their own Arab Spring, a Printemps français, which wouldn’t have meant more freedom for people, but less, and instead of signaling a willingness to sacrifice their own lives on the altar of politics, pretty much showed they only wanted to shed ours.

Then, a couple of weeks ago at Saint Etienne, a mob of Young Nationalists prevented Socialist Deputy Erwann Binet from speaking at a meeting to explain the marriage equality law to students. They took over the space, climbed on tables, and reportedly shouted “France for the French!” threatening to pull the place to pieces. Afterwards, a similar conference scheduled for April 8 at the prestigious School of Political Science at Grenoble was cancelled after more promises of violence, including death threats against the organizer, Benjamin Rosmini.

They move in packs, pick us off like sheep. Last week alone, SOS Homophobie in France received 60 reports of assaults on LGBT people. And in good old Gai Paree just this past weekend, there was a particularly brutal assault in which several men attacked two guys for walking arm in arm. Wilfred de Bruijn doesn’t even remember the assault, but only leaving a party and waking up in an ambulance, throwing up blood. His boyfriend had to explain how his face turned into a pulpy broken mess. De Bruijn posted it on Facebook. “This is the face of homophobia.”

That was in the 19th arrondissement, a tough neighborhood where there’s lots of free-floating testosterone and kids of North African descent form gangs divided into Muslims and Jews, more out of convenience than religious conviction. Weekends often see their blood spilt. But apparently now, we’re the prey.

Another couple was attacked the same night, this time in the 10th. Sylvain, the guy that got beaten, didn’t look as bad as De Bruijn. But still. And Sunday night, in yet another neighborhood, a group of masked thugs vandalized a cultural center hosting an important LGBT conference. Its banner was ripped down and the front plastered over with posters for the anti-gay Manif pour tous (Demo for Everyone) being sponsored by the Printemps français. Which lately makes me think of Mel Brooks and his little ditty from “The Producers,” “Springtime for Hitler (and Germany).” Which seems to be catching on.

Maybe it will die down when the vote is over and done. I hope so. Let’s lend our support to French queers who are trying to fight back with demos like the Rally Against Homophobia planned for this week in Paris.

Follow Kelly Jean Cogswell on Twitter @kellyatlarge.