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Paris honours LGBTQI+ icons by renaming squares and streets after them

JB Garland, Ville de Paris | American gay rights icon and politician Harvey Milk has had a Parisian square named after him

Paris has named a handful of central squares and streets after important LGBTQI+ figures with the aim of becoming one of the world’s leading "rainbow capitals" even as France struggles to overcome a spike in homophobic attacks.

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Harvey Milk, the Stonewall riots and France’s own Ovida Delect and Pierre Seel…

On June 19, Paris’s Mayor Anne Hidalgo honoured LGBTQI+ icons by renaming four squares and streets after them in the French capital’s fourth arrondissement, which is located in the Marais – the city’s unofficial LGBTQI+ neighbourhood.

The retitling now brings the total number of Parisian squares and streets named after famous LGBTI+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersexual, and more) figures to more than 40 since Hidalgo’s 2014 inauguration, and comes amid heightening hostility towards the community in France.

According to a report published in May by the SOS Homophobie association, 2018 was a “black year” for the French LGBTQI+ community, with a staggering 15 percent rise in homophobic attacks from the year before.

>>Read: France sees rise in conversion therapies to ‘cure’ homosexuality

In 2016, Hidalgo, who has vowed to make Paris a prominent Rainbow City during her tenure, appointed her regional councillor Jean-Luc Romero to oversee actions Paris could take to increase the visibility the LGBTQI+ community to support its cause.

In a 135-page report presented in 2017, Romero, who is openly gay and who in 2002 became the first French politician to reveal that he had AIDS, then made 52 recommendations on how to make Paris more LGBTQI+ friendly, including by renaming some of the city’s squares and streets.

“#ParisIsProud and will always be,” Hidalgo said on Instagram following Wednesday’s inauguration.

Guillaume Mélanie, the co-president of France’s Urgence Homophobie, who attended the ceremonies, tweeted: “This was a very emotional morning. It was an historic morning for the LGBTI community. Paris officials inaugurated several squares dedicated to LGBTI figures who wrote our history.”

Below are the latest LGBTQI+ icons to have been honoured by Paris:

The Harvey Milk square (in the fourth arrondissement)

Harvey Milk was an American politician and gay-rights activist who rose to fame after becoming one the first openly gay elected officials in US history when voted in on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1977. During his 11 months in office, Milk sponsored a bill that that banned discrimination in public accommodations, housing, and employment on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Milk, who feared for his life for his activism and his encouragement of young people to come out of the closet, made a recording prior to his death, saying that: "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."

In 1978, Milk and San Francisco’s Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by Dan White, a conservative former city supervisor. White, who was convicted for manslaughter rather than murder, spent a total of five years behind bars and was released in 1983. He committed suicide two years later.

The Ovida Delect square (the intersection between rue des Blancs Manteaux and rue des Archives)

Ovida Delect was a transgender French poet, writer and resistance fighter who was born under the male name Jean-Pierre Voidies in 1926. During World War II, Delect founded a resistance group together with some friends and infiltrated a youth collaboration group by pretending to be a supporter. Delect managed to cause severe damage to the group by stealing documents from them and by planting false information. In 1944, she was arrested by the Gestapo and tortured for several days before she was deported to the Neuengamme concentration camp in Germany, where she was kept until the end of the war.

Delect, who after the war wrote several poems and books under her preferred female name, officially changed her name when she retired in the early 1980s. She died in 1996.

Pierre Seel street (between rue de Rivoli and Rue du Roi de Sicile)

Gay Frenchman Pierre Seel was only 17 years old when in May, 1941 he was deported for his homosexuality, during World War II. He was liberated in November the same year, but did not reveal the reasons for his deportation until the 1978 publication of a book about his life.

The Stonewall riots square (formerly theSainte-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie square)

The Stonewall riots were a series of protests considered to be the most important events leading up the gay liberation movement. The riots began on June 28, 1969 after police conducted an early morning raid on the New York gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village on Manhattan. The incident provoked violent clashes and resulted in a series of protests demanding the establishment of places where gays and lesbians could be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested. The movement led to the founding of several gay rights groups across the United States, and on the one-year anniversary of the riots, the world’s first gay pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

Gilbert Baker (a commemorative plaque in the new Stonewall riots square)

Gilbert Baker was an American artist and gay rights activist and who designed the rainbow flag, which has become the worldwide symbol for the LGBTQI+ movement.

Baker created the flag in 1978, with the different colours reflecting the diversity of the LGBTQI+ community. Originally the flag consisted of eight colours, representing (from hot pink to violet): sex, life, healing, sunlight, nature, magic/art, serenity and spirit. Since 2008, the most common version of the flag has only six colours (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet) in order to be easier to make in mass production.

 

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