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social sciences

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It is difficult to gauge how many Parisian homosexuals were incarcerated through this period but survivor accounts--such as the recently published memoirs of Pierre Seel, a gay man from provincial France interned in a concentration camp because of his homosexuality--paint a disturbing picture of a very dark period in French glbtq history.

With the end of World War II, life for queer Parisians certainly improved, but it remained under the pall of a persistently conservative national mood. In a fashion that paralleled the Cold War culture of elsewhere in the post-war West, homosexuality was redefined throughout this period as an insidious threat to national security and social stability. The right-wing government of Charles de Gaulle not only maintained the Vichy criminalization of homosexuality, but it also increased its range and penalties.

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Motivated by the resurgence of leftist politics that gripped France in the late 1960s--culminating famously in "les événements," the student-led riots of May 1968--gay liberation groups such as FHAR (the Homosexual Front for Revolutionary Action) emerged throughout Paris in the 1960s and 1970s. Their efforts helped realize the eventual repeal of all anti-homosexual laws and the cultivation of a more permissive political and social attitude toward queer sexualities.

Queer Paris Today

Today, Paris has become a major world center of glbtq culture, with a rich and vibrant queer scene. In a departure from the more private and diffuse forms that previously typified queer life in the city, Paris has in recent years experienced a veritable explosion of glbtq visibility.

Gay and Lesbian Pride marches, for example, have been a feature of the city's queer scene since the late 1970s, but they were generally small-scale affairs that attracted crowds of little more than 10,000. Starting in the early 1990s, these marches became more celebratory and party-like in style with an exponential increase in attendance that today averages in excess of 500,000 people, making them among the most popular annual events in France.

In addition, a distinct gay "neighborhood" has developed in Paris around the district known as Le Marais. Like gay neighborhoods elsewhere around the Western world, Le Marais has a concentrated queer residential population and offers a wide range of commercial gay businesses from bars and cafes to bookstores and laundries, all of which fly the mandatory rainbow flag.

The rise of a concentrated and community-oriented glbtq culture in Paris is not without its critics. Many claim it is a style of queer organization that is not native to France and lament it as a symptom of what Laurent Dispot terms "the Americanization of European homosexuality."

Still, Paris continues to experience an extraordinary renaissance of glbtq visibility and pride. In 2001, the city elected its first openly gay mayor, Bertrand Delanoë. In a sure sign of the city's contemporary liberalism, Delanoë's sexual orientation was largely deemed a non-issue by the press and most Parisian voters alike.

In October 2002, however, Delanoë was attacked by a knife-wielding assassin who harbored a self-confessed hatred of gays. Fortunately, the mayor survived the attack, but the incident serves as a sobering reminder that, for all its latter-day tolerance, Paris is still not without its deeply homophobic elements.

Brett Farmer

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social sciences >> Overview:  Berlin

Notable in the twentieth century both for its pioneering efforts in homosexual emancipation and for the subsequent Nazi persecution of homosexuals, Berlin is now a major participant in the struggle to gain legal recognition of gay relationships.

social sciences >> Overview:  France

France, the second largest nation in Western Europe, has a rich, if markedly ambivalent, relationship to glbtq people and cultures.

social sciences >> Overview:  French Gay Liberation Movement

The French gay liberation movement was born during the early 1970s on the foundation of a courageous, if conservative, homophile movement and the thrust of a massive wave of social activism.

social sciences >> Overview:  Nazism and the Holocaust

As part of its agenda to preserve an "Aryan master race," Nazism persecuted homosexuals as "asocial parasites"; more than 100,000 men were arrested on homosexual charges during the Nazi years, with 5,000-15,000 gay men incarcerated in concentration camps.

social sciences >> Overview:  Parades and Marches

Both parades and marches have served to render the glbtq community visible; whereas marches typically attempt to effect political change, parades and pride events affirm identity and community.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sodomy

First used to refer only to anal intercourse, sodomy was progressively defined by the Church Fathers, and many later lawmakers, to include all sexual acts that could not result in procreation.

social sciences >> Baudry, André Émile

André Baudry, as leader of the French homophile movement from the early 1950s into the 1980s, was the principal spokesman for homosexuals in France before the rise of gay liberation in the 1970s.

social sciences >> Delanoë, Bertrand

Although the homosexuality of French politician and Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë has not been an issue in his campaigns for public service, he was targeted for assassination by a man who hates homosexuals.

arts >> Freund, Gisèle

Though she was an accomplished and respected photojournalist, Gisèle Freund is today best remembered as a chronicler of the vibrant bohemian community of artists and writers that made its home in Paris during the 1930s.

social sciences >> Guérin, Daniel

French leftist Daniel Guérin came out publicly as a homosexual in his late sixties and for the remainder of his life worked to fuse gay liberation and left-wing politics.

social sciences >> Hahn, Pierre

One of the earliest gay militants in contemporary France, Pierre Hahn also received the first doctorate in France for work in the history of homosexuality.

literature >> Peyrefitte, Roger

As one of the most famous homosexuals in France in the latter half of the twentieth century, novelist Roger Peyrefitte helped shape the public perception of homosexuals in the days before gay liberation.

arts >> Rainbow Flag

Designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978, the rainbow flag has become a popular (and sometimes controversial), internationally recognized symbol of gay and lesbian pride.

social sciences >> Seel, Pierre

Sent to a Nazi concentration camp because of his homosexuality, Pierre Seel remained silent about his ordeal for decades but finally chose to speak out, demanding recognition of the suffering of gay men and advocating for glbtq rights.


Gunther, Scott. "Le Marais: The Indifferent Ghetto." Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review 6.1 (1999): 34.

Lever, Maurice. Les bûchers de Sodome: histoire des "infames." Paris: Fayard, 1985.

Seel, Pierre. I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual: A Memoir of Nazi Terror. Joachim Neugroschel, trans. New York: Basic Books, 1995.

Sibalis, Michael D. "Paris." Queer Sites: Gay Urban Histories since 1600. David Higgs, ed. London and New York: Routledge, 1999.

Tamargne, Florence. Histoire de l'homosexualité en Europe: Berlin, Londres, Paris, 1919-1939. Paris: Seuil, 2000.

Van Casselaer, Catherine. Lot's Wife: Lesbian Paris, 1890-1914. Liverpool, Eng.: Janus Press, 1986.


    Citation Information
    Author: Farmer, Brett  
    Entry Title: Paris  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated January 25, 2011  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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