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‘Dark year’ for France as LGBT+ assaults hit record high in 2018

Charly Triballeau, AFP | A man wears the rainbow flag during a protest against homophobia in Rouen on November 3, 2018, two days after a 30-year-old gay man had been beaten, sequestered, and insulted by two men.

As countries across the world prepared for the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on Friday, a French support group reported that physical attacks on LGBT+ people hit a record high in France in 2018.

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SOS Homophobie released their annual report on Tuesday, calling 2018 a "dark year" for the community.

Its hotline, which allows victims to anonymously report assaults, recorded an unprecedented 66% hike last year, with 231 cases reported, up from 139 in 2017.

Overall complaints, including harassment and discrimination, rose for the third consecutive year to 1,905 in 2018, up 15% from 2017, the report said, most taking place during daily activities – in local public spaces, at work, in school or while shopping.

"These figures are alarming and a wakeup call. They reflect the fact that LGBT people who have been victims of violence and discrimination are speaking up and breaking their silence," SOS Homophobie said in a statement.

"They demonstrate the entrenchment and the persistence of LGBT phobias within French society."

A spate of homophobic attacks in Paris during the latter part of 2018, which were widely publicised by victims on social media, prompted the LGBT+ community to demand urgent government action.

>> READ: French LGBT groups denounce ‘culture of hate’ after spate of attacks

Equality minister Marlene Schiappa responded in November with a plan against LGBT+ violence. But SOS Homophobie said only two out of 10 actions had been taken -- a letter from the justice ministry to state officials and a school awareness campaign.

The internet and social media were the single largest source of anti-LGBT+ behaviour, leading to 23% of complaints, the SOS Homophobie report found.

Attacks have always happened but today they are more visible thanks to social media. Some people think they have the right to beat up homosexuals and film them to create public and viral entertainment,” Louis-Georges Tin, activist and founder of the International Day Against Homophobia, told FRANCE 24 (read the full French interview here).

On a more positive note, the rise of the #MeToo movement and its French equivalent, #BalanceTonPorc - Squeal on your pig – at the end of 2017 have persuaded women to report more cases of sexual harassment and violence, the SOS Homophobie report concluded.

As a result, complaints of homophobic behaviour against lesbians jumped 42% to 365 last year - the equivalent of one case a day.

>> READ: In France, spate of homophobic attacks on record is just ‘the tip of the iceberg’

The French interior ministry largely backed SOS Homophobie's findings, with figures released on Tuesday showing law enforcement officials recorded 1,378 victims of homophobic or transphobic acts last year, up 34% on 2017.

The government also pledged to present a new plan to combat LGBT+ discrimination in the coming weeks.

But Tin said the French government has dropped the ball at the international level on the most important issue of all: decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Politically, things have regressed," he said. "At the instigation of Rama Yade, then Secretary of State for Human Rights, we brought a text to the United Nations calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. She continued that fight in her role as ambassador to UNESCO, but no one in the subsequent governments took up the mantle. Since France renounced its leadership role, the issue stagnated. Governments today aren’t taking the initiative. There isn’t the diplomatic drive to push this forward.”

(FRANCE 24 with THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION)

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