In France, spate of homophobic attacks on record is just ‘the tip of the iceberg’
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An increasing number of victims of anti-LGBT violence in France have spoken out over recent weeks, as rights groups have warned of a spike in attacks and the government has confirmed a 15 percent increase since the start of 2018.
In a photo taken two days after his assault in France’s northern cathedral city of Rouen on October 24, Romain* still bears the marks of the attack. He was ambushed while leaving a nightclub and forced into the back of a car, where “they hit me in the face, all over the body, everywhere – at one point, my head hit the rear window like a bullet […] I thought I was going to die”, this 30-year-old gay man told the site Gayviking.
The Rouen prosecutor’s office opened an investigation on October 29 for kidnapping and homophobic assault.
The attack on Romain is reminiscent on those against Arnaud, in September, and Guillaume, in October, both in Paris. In their cases, as in that of Romain, the photos of their swollen faces were widely shared on social media, giving an impression that the number of and violence experienced during homophobic attacks is increasing.
‘The tip of the iceberg’
The latest figures on this, released by the French interior ministry on October 30, confirm it. At the national level, complaints of homophobic attacks have increased by 15 percent since the beginning of 2018 – although, according to the Paris prefecture, the same figure has decreased by 11.7 percent in the French capital.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Clémence Zamora-Cruz, spokesperson for rights group Inter-LGBT, told FRANCE 24. “On the ground, many attacks go unreported. Often, victims don’t complain for fear of reprisals, or because they’re afraid of speaking to police officers who aren’t aware of issues relating to LGBT identity. They’re scared of not being listened to.”
One example of this was provided in an interview that Mickael, 30, gave to Têtu, a specialist French magazine for gay people. He recounted that after being insulted by the manager of a Paris bar while paying the bill, “when I spoke to the police, I felt insulted for the second time – having to discuss with them on the meaning of the word ‘faggot’ was utterly bewildering”. The bar manager got a caution – but the specifically homophobic nature of the insult was not officially recorded.
According to the latest report by rights group SOS Homophobie, a mere 4 percent of victims of LGBT-phobic insults in France file a complaint.
In response to this issue, the French government’s inter-ministerial task force responsible for combatting racism, anti-Semitism and anti-LGBT hatred launched a programme to educate trainee police officers on the matter. “Eventually, every police officer will be trained to deal with this type of complaint,” promised committee member Frédéric Potier, in an interview with FRANCE 24.
The government will have decided how exactly this programme will work by the end of the year. In the meantime, it plans to provide each police station with a point of contact on LGBT issues, as well as making it easier to file a complaint online.
Without being able to rely solely on official data surveys, numerous LGBT rights groups have produced their own statistics, collated from the complaints made to them. SOS Homophobie’s figures show a 15 percent rise in homophobic physical attacks, with “one assault every three days”. That is while Stop Homophobie says it received “8,000 complaints in 2017 and then another 9,400 since the start of 2018, even though – of course – we haven’t finished the year yet”.
Public debates a cause of spike in violence?
Zamora-Cruz attributes this spike in violence to the political climate: “Fuelled by debates on particular issues of LGBT rights – such as the question of giving medically assisted reproductive rights to single and lesbian women – hate speech against the LGBT community has become unbridled,” she said.
However, Potier argued that – perhaps paradoxically – physical and verbal attacks on LGBT people stem from the liberalisation of French social mores: “LGBT identity has become increasingly visible – for example, gay people hold hands in the street, and that has created a backlash.” Meanwhile the inter-ministerial task force has observed a proliferation of hate speech during major events tied to gay identity, such as Gay Pride or the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the victims’ testimonies from this recent spate of attacks is a product of the LGBT community’s increasing visibility. “There has always been violence – but victims didn’t dare to speak about it publicly,” the government task force has stated.
“We’ve got to insist on the fact that hate speech is a crime,” said Zamora-Cruz. “Too many people continue to come out with anti-gay insults without even realising what they’re saying – just look at what people say in fits of road rage or during a football match,” lamented Frédéric Lefèvre-Hautemer, a representative of the SOS Homophobia branch in Normandy, where the assault on Romain took place. “The trivialisation of homophobic insults is a step on the path towards physical violence,” he told FRANCE 24.
*Gayviking changed the name of the victim of the attack in Rouen.
This article was adapted from the original in French.