What’s Going On in France?

French anti-homophobia protest
Protesters challenge French homophobia at a 2010 demonstration in Cenon, near Bordeaux, France.

Photo by Pierre Andrieu/AFP/Getty Images

I realize that this is my American ignorance showing, but even in the wake of widespread protests against France’s marriage equality law last year, I still have a hard time believing that there could be much homophobia in the land of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. France is supposed to be the country where silly Puritanical obsessions with whom one sleeps with or marries is of no importance, right?

Apparently not. According to a report released this week by the French watchdog group SOS Homophobie, homophobic acts in the country increased by a staggering 78 percent during 2013. Further metrics included rates of calls to the group’s helpline: 3,500 in 2013, compared with 1, 977 in 2012.

A report in the French English-language news source The Local has context:

According to the watchdog the huge surge in the number of homophobic incidents was without doubt linked to the bitter row over the legalisation of gay marriage, which divided France and led to mass demonstrations that frequently ended in violent clashes between police and extremists.

For the association the legalisation of gay marriage was without doubt positive but it left a bitter taste.

“There’s no doubt the rise in homophobic acts was linked to the context of the opposition against gay marriage,” Gregory Premon, from SOS Homophobie told The Local on Tuesday. “Homophobic words and statements became trivialised during this period and helped legitimize insults and homophobic violence.”

Disturbingly, the story also notes that the French government does not keep statistics on these kinds of incidents. It’s to be hoped that SOS Homophobie’s efforts will encourage more official engagement with homophobia in a country that is clearly not as progressive as its reputation suggests.