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Homophobia in France: Homeless for being gay

Text by Rachel HOLMAN , Charlotte BOITIAUX

Latest update : 2013-05-17

Antoine was only 17 when he was kicked out of his home in Picardy for coming out as gay. On the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia, read our report on Antoine’s plight.

Two years ago, Antoine was forced to leave his home in a town in the northern French region of Picardy after coming out as gay. He was 17 at the time. The young man remembers the night when his stepfather looked at his mother, and gave her the ultimatum, “It’s him or me.”

At the time, Antoine (not his real name) did not see his stepfather’s words as a reason for concern. Up until then, everything at home was “going well”. "What’s more," Antoine said, “They had been seeing each other for barely three months, and I was her son.”

Le Refuge

Le Refuge is an organisation that provides housing and support to young men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 year old who have been the victims of homophobia.

Le Refuge exists in the Paris region as well as in the major French cities of Marseille, Lyon and Montpellier. The organisation’s programme in Paris houses a total of 21 people, each for a period of around six months.

To reach Le Refuge’s emergency hotline, call: +33 (0)6 31 59 69 50.

But the revelation that Antoine was gay came as an unwelcome shock to his parents. Although the young man had always known that he was gay, he had taken pains to hide it, explaining that in Picardy “people are not as forward-thinking as they are in [the capital] Paris”.

“It was better to hide the fact that you were gay,” Antoine said, “because it wouldn’t have been well viewed”.

From the moment his mother confided in her partner that her son was gay, though, everything changed.

“My stepfather wouldn’t speak to me anymore, the atmosphere became very strained,” Antoine said. His daily interactions with his mother’s companion were peppered with insults, whether it was during a cigarette break or at the dinner table.

“One day, I touched his fork. He yelled ‘Don’t touch that!’ as though I were contagious,” remembered Antoine. “There were lots of other insults. Lots...”

Then, one morning, the young man’s mother made up her mind. Antoine had to go.

“As time passed, I realised that my days at home were numbered,” he said, explaining that somehow, he had known for some time that he would be the one to leave, and not his stepfather. “The worst part of it all was that I have two younger brothers who I knew I would never see again.”

Cries for help amid debate over same-sex marriage

Since a bill legalising same-sex marriage and adoption in France was introduced last year, organisations like SOS Homophobie and Le Refuge, which provide support to victims of homophobia, have noticed a significant hike in cries for help from young people like Antoine.

According to SOS Homophobie’s president, Elisabeth Ronzier, the organisation has received a 30 percent increase in calls during the year 2012 – a number she said has only continued to grow since the beginning of 2013.

“During the debate we received calls from people who told us they just couldn’t take it anymore, but then we also got calls from people who had never been victims of homophobia before in their lives because they had always been accepted by their communities. The debate was the first time they had ever felt it,” Ronzier told FRANCE 24.

Le Refuge, which gives housing to victims of homophobia between the ages of 18 and 25 who have been kicked out of their homes, has experienced a similar influx of demand for their services. Clio Léonard, who runs the organisation’s programme in Paris, said that they received 200 calls in the month of December alone, or six times the monthly average.

“In Paris, we have 21 places and they’ve always been full, but we now have a waitlist for the first time,” Léonard told FRANCE 24.

‘I didn’t know where to go’

Like so many of those who have called SOS Homophobie or Le Refuge in recent months, Antoine said he too just couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t imagine that his situation could possibly get any worse.

After being forced from his mother’s home, Antoine headed to Paris where he said he discovered “a little earlier than most,” the harsh realities of living on your own. There was finding a place to stay, food to purchase and rent to pay... After struggling to get by for several months, the young man decided to turn to his father, who also lived in Picardy.

Tensions over same-sex marriage in France

“He welcomed me with open arms,” Antoine remembered. The transition to living with his father went smoothly, and Antoine began to take comfort in the thought that the worst was behind him. Then, suddenly, it all came crashing down around him.

“One day, I was on the phone with my boyfriend when my father interrupted our conversation,” Antoine said. The young man tried in vain to explain the situation, but his father wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, Antoine remembered him shouting, “You have five minutes to get your things and get out!”

Another door slammed in his face, Antoine found himself in the streets once again.

“I had to sleep outside, it was really hard. I didn’t know where to go,” he said.

A slow recovery

The young man turned to his boyfriend, Tim (not his real name), who entreated him to return to Paris where he was staying at one of Le Refuge’s sites. By “complete chance”, the organisation had an extra space free at an apartment in the city’s central 2nd arrondissement, where Tim just happened to be living.

After all he had lived through in recent months, however, Antoine was severely depressed.

“I thought about committing suicide. It’s true, I just couldn’t do it anymore,” the young man said. “If I didn’t have my boyfriend at my side, I wouldn’t be here anymore.”

While Antoine, who is still living at Le Refuge, knows that the organisation is only a temporary solution for now, he sees it as key to his survival.

“Things are going a little bit better these days even if, paradoxically, I miss my mom and my brother the most now,” he said. “I will not go back, but I’ve learned to forgive. I am no longer angry with my family or society. It’s the way things are. Anger has never helped anyone move forward.”

“The law on same-sex marriage is a good thing,” Antoine said. “One day I would like to get married too. And have children. My boyfriend and I joke around about it, but I would really like to.”

Date created : 2013-03-31


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