Paris: Pride as Important as Ever

Who hates a rainbow?

Brightly painted rainbow walkways and street signs decorated Paris’s gay district, the Marais, in preparation for the Pride festivities this weekend. It was the most festive I have seen the Marais in ten years of living here. It felt welcoming, a true celebration of the queer community. Uplifting, if nothing else.

The morning of June 26, however, news buzzed that the crosswalks had been vandalized. The daily LibĂ©ration detailed how the words “LGBT hors de France,” or “LGBT out of France” had been painted across one of the intersections. Mayor Anne Hidalgo reacted quickly, sending a crew to erase the words.

By the afternoon, the intersection at rue de la Verrerie and rue des Archives, ground zero for gay nightlife, looked like a child had scrawled over the rainbows with a Wite-Out pen. It seemed like a small issue for most, but as a gay man in Paris — and a French citizen at that — it weighed on me.

As crews repainted the walk on Wednesday night, the damage had been done. It was a clear sign that homophobia is alive in France, a country which has fought for liberty, equality, and fraternity. When yet another act of vandalism happened again on Friday, I couldn't help but rolling my eyes and shaking my head. Come on, France.

We don’t often think of “Gay Paree” as being a place where same-sex couples should feel uncomfortable. Especially not in the Marais. With this past week's news, however, it’s more important than ever to reiterate the importance of the Pride parade, to remind Parisians — and the world — that homophobia is still everywhere.

Granted, it’s a bit easier to identify as LGBT now than ever before in France. Since 1791, as the French Revolution raged on, new penal laws decriminalized same-sex relations. The last gay couple was persecuted in 1750. Despite apparent liberation, other types of harassment and entrapment by police marked the decades after the French Revolution, and later the Nazis labeled gay men with pink triangles while subjecting them to the horrors of the Holocaust. HIV/AIDS did not pass over Paris, and the recognition for marriage equality raged on until 2013. 

This is why we can't have nice things...

The LGBT community has forged on through all of these challenges, but we didn’t cross some ultimate finish line.

I have never felt victimized in Paris, beyond the odd comment or look. SOS Homophobie, however, tracks more serious homophobic incidents and reported a 4.8% increase in 2017 from 2016. The number was relatively small, with just 1650 logged, but even one is arguably too many. 

It’s not unique to Paris — recent homophobic attacks from London to Miami have also made headlines. These anecdotes give me pause. Heterosexual couples in Paris can all but copulate in the street without anyone batting an eye, but as a gay man, I’d give a look in both directions before holding hands.

Once those rainbow flags get packed away after the Pride parade, the conversation quiets down, but I think it has to continue even louder. For instance, I give guided tours about LGBT history for mostly LGBT clients, and a lot of people always ask why anyone would want that.

Many tourists come from places where rainbow crosswalks probably aren’t even an option, but persecution is. It’s important to show them that Paris is still a gay beacon on a hill, and that’s why the vandalism struck me so hard. It’s a blow to what Paris is as a haven for so many people from different walks of life. The swift reaction by City Hall, however, made me proud. I walked through the Marais and still felt uplifted.

Hopefully the vandalism in the Marais was just a prank by some rabble-rousers who took the easy route to annoy us all. But maybe it wasn’t. Maybe some truly hate-filled people went out of their way to write those words, suggesting that all LGBT individuals leave France. It only takes one spark to light a powder keg. 

Those who say gay bars and pride marches are passé have forgotten how hard the LGBT community has fought to achieve these things, and how recently it has all come to light. Paris is no exception.

We still need Pride in a gay-friendly city like Paris so that detractors and homophobes know we are here and that we are going to live our lives. This weekend, the Pride parade will do just that. It will be a glittery, rainbow-infused show of defiance against those who would rather we left France, and a clear affirmation that we will do no such thing.