February 1, 2024

Why is France So Gay?

When it comes to homosexuality, the French are a notoriously laissez-faire bunch. Paris carries the title of World’s Gay Capital, the country is fifth in Spartacus’ Gay Travel Index and the French government has passed laws allowing same-sex couples to marry and access state benefits. And yet, despite its reputation as an openly gay-friendly place, France has often disappointed when it comes to implementing important social reforms for LGBTQIA+ people.

The AIDS epidemic, for example, shattered the idea of a largely indifferent society towards homosexuality and exposed discrimination that one would have hoped was long relegated to the past. More recently, the Socialist party’s family minister argued that the right to medically assisted procreation (MAP) for homosexual couples could not be separated from the issue of marriage, an opinion that left LGBT activists aghast.

While anglophone academic research on gay and lesbian history, anthropology, sociology, and other social sciences has grown steadily since the 1980s thanks to groundbreaking work in queer theory and developments in intersectionality, feminism and women of color scholarship, there seems to be little French interest in these subjects. This may have something to do with the hostility that some in French academia have to queer theory, which is seen as an illegitimate import seeking to destroy the sacrosanct Gallic ‘difference des sexes’. But other explanations are also possible. The fact that many LGBTQIA+ people still experience homophobia in rural areas, small cities and even major urban centers, as well as that French LGBT movements often remain aloof to racial minorities and migrant populations, can help explain this lacuna.


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