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26.06.2019 Europe

Paris streets, squares named in honour of LGBT+ figures

By Amanda Morrow - RFI
Paris streets, squares named in honour of LGBT+ figures
JUN 26, 2019 EUROPE

Fifty years after New York City's Stonewall riots laid the foundation for modern gay rights, Paris is carrying on that legacy by naming an array of streets and squares after historically important LGBT+ figures.

New to the city map are Stonewall Riot and Harvey Milk squares – the first in recognition of the famous rebellion against Manhattan police in 1969; the latter in honour of the American civil rights leader and first openly gay politician to be elected in California.

Other squares, gardens and passageways pay tribute to the likes of Irish gay rights activist Mark Ashton, French transsexual politician and poet Ovida-Delect and bisexual American writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag.

There's also a commemorative plaque in honour of Gilbert Baker, the man who invented the rainbow flag. Add to that Pierre Seel Street, named for the openly gay Holocaust survivor, and Place Renée Vivien, in honour of the British poet known for her Sapphic verse and party days during the Belle Epoque.

Increasing LGBT+ visibility
The new unveilings bring to more than 40 the number of people immortalised through plaques erected around the city – with most of them smattered about the vibrant 4th arrondissement, home to Paris's unofficial gay district.

These sorts of gestures are an important way of increasingly the visibility of the gay community and cementing its place in history, says Fabien Jannic-Cherbonnel, a journalist with the French LGBT+ news site Komitid.

“France is very keen on talking about its history and the great men who shaped the country – and these plaques show people that women and LGBT+ figures are a part of that history, and they also helped to make this country what it is today,” he says.

Paris playing catch-up
While other European cities such as Amsterdam and Berlin are perhaps a little further ahead in celebrating the LGBT+ legacy, with their so-called “homomonuments” drawing in tourists, Paris is steadily playing catch-up – so much so the Town Hall has dared to label it the “flagship city of inclusion and diversity”.

The street-naming gesture comes just ahead of this weekend's pride march. Like many cities across the world, Paris cranks up the colour in June to celebrate gay pride – and this Saturday the capital will look like the rainbow city that mayor Anne Hidalgo has been striving to deliver.

Tempering the pride party, however, is last month's report by the French not-for-profit organisation SOS Homophobie, which noted a 15 percent rise in the number of homophobic attacks reported in 2018, compared with the previous year.

While the NGO described 2018 as a “black year”, Jannic-Cherbonnel says the numbers aren't necessarily evidence that homophobic assaults are on the rise.

“This is a reflection of the number of calls that SOS received – which means that people are talking about it,” he says. “They know when something is wrong and when something happens they will report it.

“I'm not convinced there's a huge increase in homophobia in French society, especially in Paris, but we are talking more about it – which is good because this is all about visibility, which in turn helps to fight homophobia.”

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