Association Elus Locaux Contre le Sida

Speech of Jean-Luc Romero in Vilnius for The Baltic Pride (in English) :

Lundi 10 Mai 2010

Speech of Jean-Luc Romero in Vilnius for The Baltic Pride (in English) :

Speech of Jean-Luc Romero
Vilnius - 7th 2010

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to ask you a question, just a simple question : is the homosexual a danger, a troublemaker, a threat to public order, a sick person who needs to be treated, a psychologically deranged person ? Should he be treated as a criminal or as a sick person? Should he be locked up to avoid any spreading of what was called in the 19th century by some people “the abominable vice of the Greeks” ?

I am asking this question to provoke, to provoke you, who are gathered here because of an unrelenting humanist will to fight against discriminations which are linked to homophobia, but mainly to remind you of something fundamental : these questions sound absurd and the answer should be totally clear to absolutely everybody.

Unfortunately, and often dramatically, what I just told you does not match reality : more than 70 countries in the world apply laws which criminalize sexual relationships between consenting adults of the same sex. Even worse, in more than 10 countries, homosexuality is punished by death. These problems have only been resolved in France recently. Till 1982 homosexuality was partly considered to be a felony in France. Let us remind ourselves that it is only in 1991 - less than 20 years - that the WHO (World Health Organisation) removed homosexuality from the list of mental diseases.
Just as a reminder : less time was needed to become aware of the absurdity of the wall dividing two worlds refusing to communicate with each other than to recognize that homosexuality is nothing but natural . In the accountability of horrors, which one of both follies generated more suffering ?

Homophobia conceived as a manner of diminishing, excluding, stigmatizing and sometimes extinguishing others is still a very strong reality in the world of today.

A reality which you are going through. Painfully. Facing such an intolerable and dramatic fact, we must react. How ? Of course, I have no miraculous recipe and that is why I shall tell you about what is going on in France and give you the details of the way we work with different societies, civil and government societies in the fight against homophobia. I will do so in my quality of elected politician and also as the president of « Elus Locaux Contre le Sida » (local representatives against aids). In my perception, in the fight against homophobia there are three indissociable aspects: repression, education and equality of rights.

France represses homophobia

Before I start telling you about the successful partnerships on the issues of education and equality of rights, I would like to ask myself whether the government and the political forces tacitly tolerate homophobia or whether it is punished and stated as felony, meaning a punishable act which would be incompatible with the values defended by a society. In France, homophobia is punished by law.

France represses homophobia regarding it as an aggravating circumstance: indeed the laws of 2003 and 2004 foresee the possibility of declarating it as an aggravating circumstance if a crime or an act of violence is committed because of the sexual orientation of the victim. Concretely it means that a threat or an act of violence based on homophobia will be more severely punished, just as a threat or an act of violence based on racism. This brings homosexuality to the same status as the evidence of nature. Does a white man choose to be born white ?

France however, decided to go even further: homophobic statements in public are punishable and are not protected by the law of freedom of expression. This has been far from easy and the pressure from society and different associations has made the registration and the voting of the law nearly impossible. Can you imagine that even a famous journalists association was opposed to penalizing homophobic expressions? In the name of what ? Of the freedom of press.

I would call it freedom to insult. But I shall not dwell on the difficulties, you can well imagine them : all kinds of contestations, postponement of the registration of the law- which led me to resign from the function of national secretary of UMP, the party presently governing France.
Finally the law penalizing homophobic remarks has been voted, which means that homophobic, sexist and handiphobic remarks are penalized to the same extent as racist remarks.

This law has been applied very fast to a very symbolic case because it concerned a French national representative, an actual member of parliament. He was condemned for insults concerning sexual orientation. I testified against him in his trial and, you can believe me, to testify against a member of one’s own party can bring you a lot of problems.

Unfortunately the Supreme Court, the highest French Court, took a decision I cannot understand : it erased this condemnation on the grounds that “ if the litigious remarks may have wounded the sensitivity of certain homosexual people, they do not transgress the freedom of expression”.

For the Supreme Court, to clearly state the superiority of heterosexuality versus homosexuality is not a problem and is not a clear sign of homophobia ! Impossible to understand ! Today the case has been taken to the European Court of Human Rights.

Education towards tolerance: partnership between France and the different associations

Second issue I would like to tackle: education. As a homosexual I had to endure and I still continue to endure homophobic insults. That is why I sincerely believe that homophobia is a part of the logic that tends to stigmatize or make people feel inferior in jokes, on school playgrounds or at work just as much as in prison sentences inflicted in certain countries.
There is of course no possible comparaison since the prison sentences are so much more serious, but there is the same underlying logic beneath it.

We should not forget that this logic of making people seem inferior has dramatic consequences: young homosexuals are prone to try 13 times more to commit suicide than young heterosexuals.

Therefore the only way to fight against this logic is education, education towards tolerance, educational methods to understand the meaning of equality and of the fact that homosexuality is just as normal as heterosexuality.
I do not want to enter into a theoretical debate, therefore I shall just give you two concrete examples of an educational programme aiming at tolerance.

First at school : in France, many texts have been voted to introduce sexual education - about one a year since 10 years. But practically the results are not the same everywhere: the tools exist (for example the educational methods) but everything depends on the good will of the national education staff. This shows how difficult it is to bring up an issue like sexuality in the schools. However it is not all as dark as it seems, quite the contrary in fact, and I will tell you about the Regional Centre about Aids information in the Ile de France region. I am well acquainted with this structure since I have been vice-president for over 12 years. One of the missions of the CRIPS which is mainly financed by the Ile- de- France region and the State is to educate young people and organize educational sessions in schools and other places where young people are educated, in which open discussions about sex and life take place. Every year more than 140.000 young people are invited to these discussions, which are very interactive. The goal is not to impose any ideas but on the contrary to help these youngsters to make up their own minds. These talks are conceived as a tool to promote notions of tolerance and respect of the differences and acceptance of others. This structure functions very well and has very good results.

Another example of education this time in the professional world : I am purposefully taking a very strong and symbolic example because it concerns the police. FLAG, a society of gay and lesbian policemen and women set up a campaign to raise public awareness on homosexuality and homophobia with a debate between students and teachers, a reminder of police ethics and the current legislation.

I could give you other examples but I think those I just gave you are strong and symbolic.

France, lobbying and equal rights

The last issue I would like to raise is the one of equality of rights. Indeed I am deeply convinced that not giving homosexuals equal rights breeds homophobia. There is no doubt that a homosexual person may be perceived as inferior if he has less right than others. This legitimates the arguments of the homophobes.

Equal rights are therefore an essential component of the fight against homophobia.
There is a very concrete question around this issue : marriage between people of the same sex.
Then comes of course the question of marriage and homoparentality. In France this is an important and very concrete debate. One example: in France, according to APGL, around 100.000 homoparental families bring up between 200 and 300.000 children. The children of those couples do not have the same rights as the children of « traditional » couples. So the question is: what is the status they should be given ? These are important questions we are raising but it is possible that society in Lithuania is not yet ready for this debate which is quite stormy in France. I would like to stay concrete and introduce you to an universalist measure which has been implemented in France for 10 years : the PACS (civilian pact of solidarity).

This measure has been adopted under the pressure of civil society. The PACS was created by a law in 1999 and sanctions a new form of union which is open to everybody and thus to people of the same sex. Needless to say that debates around this reform were very tense and violent. During demonstrations against the PACS, on could hear things like : “ burn the homos” a member of parliament, Christine Boutin, even brandished the Bible on the platform of the National Assembly to oppose this reform.

Today the Pacs has become a normal custom. More than 700.000 Pacs have been signed in 10 years and today 95% of the PACS are signed between heterosexual people. Of course it is not a perfect tool although constantly ameliorated. The associations are asking for more change concerning the rights which should come with the signing of a PACS.

More globally, one should note that this general claim for equality in rights is often the slogan for the French gay pride.

So here I have the right transition to end my speech with the gay pride and especially with this Baltic gay pride which will take place tomorrow In Vilnius. In France, the gay pride are supported by the political world : in Marseille, which is France second largest town, the town hall finances practically all of the logistics. The gay pride are also supported by the population : in Paris, the Gay Pride gathers more than a million people in the Streets who walk behind Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, making it one of the most important demonstrations of the year in France. It is a moment which mingles activism, tolerance, music and good spirits. Tomorrow, at the Baltic Gay Pride, there will probably not be this festive aspect, but there will certainly be the courage which make just causes advance. I was at the first Gay pride in Russia and I am proud about it. It was marked by a lot of violence but it was a way to show an intolerable situation. The Baltic Pride is an essential and indispensable demonstration and I would like to salute the courage of the Lithuanian associations in their fight for tolerance and acceptation. This fight is a just fight, it is a legitimate fight.

I would like to end by quoting Albert Camus, a great French writer, well-known for his humanitarian activism. He wrote these words which have their full meaning here: “It is not the revolt in itself which is noble, but what it demands”.
What I see here is a lot of courage, determination, commitment. I see women and men, who are free, respectful and worthy of respect. Be assured of my support in your battle.

Thank you.