Gay Paris mayor hits out at French homophobia
PARIS, Sept 19 (AFP) - In a new autobiography France's best-known gay politician Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe has delivered a broadside against the country's prevailing homophobia and attacked President Jacques Chirac for failing to fulfil campaign promises to defend gay rights.
The 54 year-old Socialist, who in 2001 was elected the capital’s first ever left-wing mayor, says that French attitudes have certainly developed in the last 20 years – largely as a result of AIDS – and “in some quarters to be homophobic is seen as a sign of poor taste.”
But he says the progress is relative. “Outside certain circles homosexuality is still something to be endured. In small towns, and especially in the countryside, homos are condemned to secrecy. To be homo is to be different, from a minority – not like the rest,” he writes.
In his book – entitled “Life, passionately” – Delanoe describes how he made the decision to come out as a gay in a television interview in 1998, a step seen as highly unorthodox because it broke the unwritten French law that a politician’s private life should remain his own affair.
Delanoe says he came under pressure from friends not to go public, but over-ruled them because of the good he felt it would do to the cause of gay rights. “Would not my intervention help even if only in a small way to lighten the burden of secrecy borne by so many people,” he writes.
And he launches a withering rejoinder against France’s powerful Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who recently accused the mayor of “confessing” his homosexuality as a political ploy ahead of the Paris elections.
“In reality I am extremely modest when it comes to my private life. Can one say the same of Nicolas Sarkozy? … You spend the whole time not just confessing your heterosexuality but putting it on parade, conniving in the lavish media coverage of your family life,” he writes.
Delanoe reserves stronger criticism for Chirac, who he says paid lip service to gay rights during his campaign for re-election in 2002, promising in an interview with the gay magazine Tetu to push for a law against homophobia but dropping the idea once back in the Elysee palace.
“Since 2002 … no progress has been made. Associations still do not have the right to launch civil action suits (to prosecute homophobic acts), as they can for racist or anti-Semitic crimes. And yet homophobia continues to hit hard,” he says.
Born in Tunisia in 1950, Delanoe came to France at the age of 14 and entered Paris politics in 1977. A close ally of former prime minister Lionel Jospin, he is regularly cited as one of the most popular left-wing leaders in France, and even as a possible candidate for the next presidential race in 2007.
In his autobiography Delanoe reveals that he came close to adopting two children in the 1990s. He acquired the necessary authorisations, but finally decided that the pressure of work was too much. “I shall never be a father,” he writes. “But not because I am homosexual.”
He also comes out strongly in favour of gay marriage, which is banned in France. “In the name of what can one reject this demand for equality? Two people love each other, want to affirm it publicly and have it recognised by society. There is absolutely no reason to refuse them,” he says.
Subject: French News