Queerphobic violence in French homes: a preventable and unseen tragedy of the pandemic

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CN: this article contains detailed discussion of homophobia, queerphobia, transphobia, murder and queerphobic violence

CN: this article mentions rape and homophobic slurs


Over this past year of lockdowns and restrictions, French LGBTQ+ rights organisation SOS Homophobie reported a rise in the number of queerphobic attacks taking place within the supposed safety of the home. These attacks comprise of physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse. Matthieu Gatipon-Bachette, a spokesman for Inter-LGBT, stated that there have “never been so many domestic violence situations to deal with”. Charities including Au-delà du genre (Beyond Gender) have been called to mediate altercations among families of transgender children. Au-delà du genre activist, Clémence Zamora-Cruz, says there have even been “a few cases of children being chased out of their homes”. 

Despite this increase in violence, fewer testimonies were received by the organisation than during the previous year. Confined to the home in successive lockdowns and unable to speak out, young LGBTQ+ people have slipped through the support networks that educational and social institutions traditionally provide.

With financial dependency and complex family dynamics often at stake, the sinister truth for many young queer people is that there is no place to go if stuck in a confined space with a family who won’t accept them but upon whom they ultimately rely. It is wholly natural that these young people are less likely to report queerphobic attacks in the home. The 15% decrease in testimonies reported by the Ministry of the Interior in 2020 is thus misrepresentative. 

There is an urgent need to address the root of this violence and ask why homophobia and queerphobia remain prevalent in today’s French society in the first place. As with any debate, greater visibility can lead to polarisation. Co-President of SOS Homophobie, Véronique Godet, suggests that recent debates around assisted reproduction for lesbian and single women have opened up a space for reactionary activists to propagate their queerphobia, through arguments such as ‘every child needs a father’. 

To that end, media coverage of LGBTQ+ issues plays an undeniable role in legitimising such violence. The French media’s coverage of the murder of transgender sex worker, Vanesa Campos, in Paris’ Bois de Boulogne three years ago sparked outrage. Many criticised the media’s disregard for Vanesa’s gender identity and the way in which it reported her rape and murder.

Police reports stating that Vanesa “was wrong” to have fought back were quoted as fact, while Vanesa was also misgendered in multiple news outlets, including La Depeche. A precedent is set: the media dismisses non-binary identity and experience, opening the floor to queerphobic and transphobic aggressions in the home.  

The government of a republic can do little to dictate the attitudes of its citizens, but the French state could certainly do much more to provide a framework to delegitimise such intolerance. In absence of government intervention, the baton is often passed to charitable organisations such as Acceptess-T, who help vulnerable trans people, to pick up the slack.

Director, Giovanna Rincon, says “the lack of resources prevents us from working on less serious offences. We have to triage violence, whatever is considered ‘everyday’ and doesn’t physically harm people…”. 

If even dedicated organisations are unable to protect LGBTQ+ people from micro-aggressions, it is no surprise that this form of violence goes unreported. Young queer people are already four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual and cis peers.

The failure of legislators to properly address the impact of queerphobic abuse cannot be ignored as a factor. Only 20% of hate crimes are reported in the first place, and police often fail to report the homophobic, queerphobic or transphobic motivation of such violence. 

While the incumbent government has instigated some 42 measures to tackle queerphobia in schools, universities and other public institutions, it has also come under fire for its failure to sufficiently address the enforcement of such measures.

State-backed campaigns have also been far from inspiring. This year’s government campaign against homophobia featuring slogans such as “Oui, mon pote est gay” (yes, my mate is gay) and “Oui, ma fille est lesbienne” (yes, my daughter is lesbian) has been lambasted not only for its vacuous sentiment but also for its images. Inexplicably, none show the faces of the person representing the lesbian or gay child. One wonders, does the Élysée consider French society able to see homosexuality? 

Inter-LGBT’s Gatipon-Bachette also cites the government’s COVID-19 lockdowns as a logistical reason why attacks in the home are on the increase, and why they are going unreported. “The lockdowns significantly affected people filing reports […] The circulation of Covid-19 has deterred people from moving around and getting together, but victims often ask us to accompany them when they are filing this type of report. They don’t want to go alone.” 

This is a dangerous shortcoming of the state’s poorly planned COVID response: no mechanism was provided to protect queer lives. Aggressors have been left unchecked, facilitating infinite increments in violence.

For a nation that decriminalised homosexuality in 1791, France sits in a strange symbiosis between prejudice and equality for the LGBTQ+ community. Living in Paris, I have seen queer friends catcalled, ogled, spat at and verbally abused for their sexuality. France’s historical attachment to a homogenous national identity may be a reason why this sort of violence has become hard to flag up with legislators. 

In the Republic, all citizens are first and foremost French. Religion, gender, race and sexuality are subordinated to the citizen’s national identity, with the supposed intention of creating an even playing field for all and uniting all citizens as ‘republicans’. Enshrined in law with laïcité, or state secularism, what is actually bred is a state-sanctioned refusal to acknowledge difference, which, in turn, makes acknowledging discrimination impossible. Legally making everybody equal only goes so far.

However, France’s legal progress in enshrining LGBTQ+ rights should not be overstated. Despite victories including the decriminalisation of homosexuality, being the first country in the world to remove ‘gender identity disorder’ from the catalogue of mental illnesses, and introducing the civil union ‘PACS’ for same-sex couples in 1999, until recently there have been several holes in protecting equality for LGBTQ+ people.

Only this year was the abstinence period for gay men wanting to donate blood reduced to four months. Meanwhile, a 2020 bill to allow assisted reproduction for lesbians and single women was met with fierce public and political opposition.

The alternative to assisted reproduction for lesbian women wanting to start a family is adoption, but institutionalised homophobia still makes this unacceptably difficult for same sex couples. All notions of laïcité appear to dissipate when adoption is at stake. Catholic family councils provide much of the nation’s compulsory pre-adoption mentoring.

Members of these councils have publicly called homosexual couples “atypical”, adding that straight couples would be favoured for adoption. The French state appears unwilling to equally enforce the tenets of its secularism across the board. In allowing queerphobic, Catholic family councils to dominate the adoption process like so, the state sanctions an unsafe environment for same-sex couples and undermines equality between homosexual and heterosexual families. 

Yet perhaps the most telling indicator of normalised queerphobia in French society is its prevalence in common parlance. Insults used as commonly as ‘bastard’ in British English have alarmingly literal meanings that have become almost entirely extrapolated from the word itself. With equivalent meanings in English loosely translating to slurs such as ‘pederast’, it is no wonder that homophobic and queerphobic violence is so prevalent in a society that weaponises LGBTQ+ identity into a puerile over-a-drink jibe.

Despite certain LGBTQ+ rights affirmed by the law, there is much to do before French queer and trans people can feel safe. Inconsistencies in de facto policy and the absence of protection against queerphobic, homophobic and transphobic violence persists. The rise of homophobic aggressions and violence in the home is another symptom of a mismanaged pandemic government.

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All views expressed are the writer’s own.

Article Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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