'Dark year' for France as LGBT+ assaults hit record in 2018

LONDON, May 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Physical attacks on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in France hit a record in 2018 in a “dark year” for the community, the support group SOS Homophobie said on Tuesday.

Its hotline, which allows victims to anonymously report assaults, recorded an unprecedented 66% hike last year, with 321 cases reported, up from 139 in 2017.

Overall complaints, including harassment and discrimination, rose for the third consecutive year to 1,905 in 2018, up 15% on 2017, it said, most taking place during daily activities - in local public spaces, at work, in school or while shopping.

“These figures are alarming and a wakeup call. They reflect the fact that LGBT people who have been victims of violence and discrimination are speaking up and breaking their silence,” SOS Homophobie said in a statement.

“They demonstrate the entrenchment and the persistence of LGBTphobias within French society.”

A spate of homophobic attacks in Paris during the latter part of 2018, which were widely publicised by victims on social media, prompted the LGBT+ community to demand urgent government action.

Equality minister Marlene Schiappa responded in November with a plan against LGBT+ violence. But SOS Homophobie said only two out of 10 actions were taken - a letter from the justice ministry to state officials and a school awareness campaign.

The internet and social media were the single largest source of anti-LGBT+ behaviour, leading to 23% of complaints, SOS Homophobie’s report found.

On a more positive note, the rise of the #MeToo movement and its French equivalent, #BalanceTonPorc - Expose Your Pig - at the end of 2017 have persuaded women to report more cases of sexual harassment and violence, it said.

As a result, complaints of homophobic behaviour against lesbians jumped 42% to 365 last year - equal to one case a day.

The French interior ministry largely backed SOS Homophobie’s findings, with figures released on Tuesday showing law enforcement officials recorded 1,378 victims of homophobic or transphobic acts last year, up 34% on 2017.

The government also pledged to present a new plan to combat LGBT+ discrimination in the coming weeks.