Homophobia in Paris: How Safe Are LGBT Couples?

Some Tips and Reassuring Facts

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••• In general, same-sex couples should feel safe in the French capital--but some precautions are probably in order. Renee Rendler-Kaplan/Creative Commons

Is Paris a homophobic or queer-friendly city? Can same-sex and LGBT couples visiting the city of light feel comfortable holding hands or kissing in public, or is there reason to be cautious? Following a widely reported, brutal attack in Paris on a gay male couple holding hands in the streets in 2013, worries lingered around a spike in homophobic violence in the capital and in the rest of France.

Two human rights associations, SOS Homophobia and Refuge, have reported a major increase in verbal and physical violence of a clearly homophobic nature in France since President Francois Hollande announced proposed legislation opening marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples in 2012.

Both organizations reported that such attacks tripled in France in the first three months of 2013, compared to the same period last year. No specific statistics for Paris were available as this went to press.

This begs an unfortunate but important question for LGBT visitors to Paris: how safe is the city in the recent climate?

Unfortunately, there's no straightforward answer to that question. Neither the American Embassy in Paris nor French authorities have issued any travel advisories around this issue, which seems, to this writer, a terrible oversight given the recent attacks. In general, Paris is extremely safe and welcoming, and it's not unusual to see openly same-sex or transgender couples in the city. In central, well-lit and populated areas of the city, I can confidently say that LGBT couples needn't worry about their safety. 

Most Parisians "do not support such acts of violence"

Michael Bouvard, Vice-President of SOS Homophobia in France, said in a telephone interview that it's important that tourists realize that the general French population "does not support such acts of violence" and that while the current climate calls for some extra caution, LGBT travelers to Paris should not feel that it's unsafe to travel here, nor feel unwelcome.

Large majorities of the French supported Hollande's (successful) marriage equality bill, for instance, and Paris has historically been one of the world's most LGBT-friendly cities, with enormous crowds assembling each year for the festive "Marche des Fiertes" (Gay Pride) event in the city center. 

Still, as much as it disconcerts and saddens me, I suggest that same-sex and transgender couples exercise caution at night, in poorly lit and quiet areas, especially in the following areas after dark: the areas around metro Les Halles, Chatelet, Gare du Nord, Stalingrad, Jaures, Belleville, and around the city's northern and eastern borders.

Bouvard of SOS Homophobia said he agreed. While generally safe, these areas have at times been known to harbor gang activity or to be the site of hate crimes. In addition, avoid traveling to the Northern Paris suburbs of Saint-Denis, Aubervilliers, Saint-Ouen, etc. after dark.

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"Anger and Sadness"

Former Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, himself openly gay, said in a statement shortly following the attacks in April 2013 that he learned "with anger and sadness" of the brutal physical attack on Dutch resident Wilfred de Bruijn and his partner, which left the former unconscious and suffering significant injuries. "The violence that this couple was subjected to simply for holding hands is profoundly worrying and entirely unjustifiable. I hope that light will be shed on this barbaric and cowardly act, and that its perpetrators will be quickly questioned and brought to justice."