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French minister charmed and full of Pride in SF

by Heather Cassell

French Minister of Gender Equality Marlène Schiappa, left, joined San Francisco Mayor-elect London Breed at the pink triangle ceremony June 23. Photo: Bill Wilson
French Minister of Gender Equality Marlène Schiappa, left, joined San Francisco Mayor-elect London Breed at the pink triangle ceremony June 23. Photo: Bill Wilson  

France showed its support of San Francisco's LGBT community over Pride weekend.

French Minister of Gender Equality Marlène Schiappa came to San Francisco to learn about, and support, the LGBT community for its big weekend.

Speaking at the pink triangle ceremony atop Twin Peaks June 23, Schiappa, a straight ally, expressed her appreciation and France's admiration for the city's LGBT community.

She noted the shared histories of France and San Francisco's LGBT communities fighting for their rights, especially during the HIV/AIDS crisis.

"Today, we celebrate all the activists who during generations of strengths, faults, and risked their lives to combat discrimination on sexual orientation or identity," Schiappa told the crowd.

She said that decades of work can be undone quickly and that much remains to be done.

"We can't forget that in many countries LGBTQ persons still face discriminations and violence. We still have to speak out and iterate that human rights are universal and apply to all humans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity," she said.

The Bay Area Reporter had the opportunity to speak with Schiappa before the ceremony with the assistance of her interpreter.

Schiappa's visit to the city was part of her diplomatic mission.

She also met with technology leaders as part of her responsibilities on a task force launched between France and the United States with the World Economic Forum to bring together the best each country has to offer in the private and public business sphere.

Schiappa, 35, came to work on LGBT rights 15 years ago from the French feminist movement. A mother of two children, she believes the "two subjects are very related."

Prior to becoming France's first minister of gender, she was a feminist blogger, founding Maman Travaille, the country's leading working mother's blog.

The ministry is responsible for gender equality and LGBT rights.

Despite harsh words from critics, polls have shown Schiappa to be the fourth most popular member of President Emmanuel Macron's cabinet since her appointment to the post in May 2017, reported the New Yorker.

Gender equality is a major piece of Macron's platform, and gender parity has been the law in France since 2000.

Women have gained a strong foothold in French politics. Last June, the French elected 23 women to France's parliament. That made the legislative body 38 percent female, nearly 50 percent more than the previous record, reported the New Yorker.

LGBT rights
In France and the country's territories, there is much work to be done to combat homophobia. Much of it is education, visibility, and enforcing the laws that are in place, Schiappa told the B.A.R.

"There are theoretical laws, but there's still homophobic acts being committed," she said, noting that national statistics published annually show hate crimes against LGBT people are decreasing, slightly. "Even if there were just two, that be two too many."

In contrast, SOS Homophobie, a French LGBT organization, reported that hate crimes are increasing, according to the organization's records.

Last week, French General Consul to the Pacific Northwest Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, a gay man, told the B.A.R. that hate crime figures remained the same for the past two years, but a closed examination showed a decrease in physical violence and an increase in verbal or written anti-gay hate speech.

"So, we're continuing to fight this cultural battle and not tolerate anything," Schiappa said.

Right now, one of her battles is harassment and hate crimes committed online, including social media. One of France's new policies is that it's now legal to prosecute one or a group of individuals for posting or sending single anti-gay message online to an individual, instead of basing the crime on a series of hate messages, she said. The law has stiff penalties.

She would like to create similar laws for women to stop harassment, such as young girls being cat-called and followed on the street.

Schiappa is also working on decreasing anti-LGBT crimes in rural and poorer parts of France, and in the French territories.

"I believe that there are places in the world, and in France, where it's harder to be gay than in others," she said.

One of those places is Trappes, a poor suburb outside of Paris on the way to Versailles where there is a large immigrant community.

"It's a very taboo issue in that area," said Schiappa, who is implementing LGBT sensitivity training in the suburb to combat homophobia.

She's funding educational campaigns and trainings about the LGBT community, and Pride events throughout France, in French territories, and other countries, she said.

The French government is also seeking to create Pride events where none currently exist, she added.

Speaking with Schiappa about immigrant communities, the B.A.R. asked her about what France was doing to help LGBT refugees.

She talked about France's recently passed controversial immigration reform bill. The bill fast-tracks immigration processing to cut down on time, among other issues that have been highly criticized. However, the bill also includes a redefinition of refugees and automatically gives refugee status to any illegal immigrant who identifies as LGBT and comes from countries known for being anti-gay, she said.

"So, now, even when you are an illegal immigrant, if you are coming from that kind of country, you are automatically considered a refugee because your country is not safe," said Schiappa.

One of the things Schiappa is taking back with her to France are the LGBT advertising campaigns and the televised broadcast of San Francisco Pride.

Schiappa was impressed. She told the B.A.R. that she plans to speak with Francoise Nyssen, the French minister of culture, regarding advertising and broadcasting Pride events on French TV throughout the country.

US leaves UN rights council
After a year of threatening to leave the United Nations Human Rights Council, the United States announced June 19 it was giving up its seat on the panel.

The departure follows a string of the Trump administration's withdrawals from important global leadership roles, including the Iran nuclear deal, Paris Agreement on climate change, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Created in 2006, the 47-member state council has been a leading voice, and taken action on, human rights issues around the world.

Current National Security Adviser John Bolton, who was U.S. ambassador to the U.N. during the George W. Bush administration, was against the council then and remains against it today.

The U.S. joined the council in 2009 under former President Barack Obama. During this time the U.S. played a significant role in shaping human rights policy around the world.

The council was able to push forward the historic resolution to protect LGBT rights globally, against opposition from the United Arab Emirates and African nations that attempted to block it.

Its passage paved the way for LGBT rights to be placed on the U.N.'s platform due to backing from the U.S., France, and other allies.

However, all that changed last week when current U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, announced the U.S.'s departure from the council.

Haley's complaints about the council were that it focused too much of its attention on Israel and the poor human rights records of some of the member states sitting on the council, like China, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

LGBT global leaders quickly denounced the U.S.'s decision to walk away from its seat on the council.

"Withdrawing from the council sends a message to other countries that it's acceptable to walk away from the system when it doesn't suit you to be there. Imagine, what would happen if all countries walked away from the U.N. because of disagreements?" wrote OutRight Action International in a statement.

The announcement came a day after the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein criticized the Trump administration's actions separating families attempting to cross the U.S. border to claim asylum, reported Bloomberg.

"The policy of separating children from parents illegally crossing the southern border of the U.S. is 'unconscionable,'" he said.

Following the U.S. announcement, al-Hussein stated it was "disappointing."

"Given the state of human rights in today's world, the U.S. should be stepping up, not stepping back," al-Hussein said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the country would put in its candidacy for the open seat on the Council June 20, reported Radio Free Europe.

Russia lost its seat on the council in 2016.

WHO removes transgender as a mental disorder
The World Health Organization will stop classifying transgender individuals as mentally ill in its latest update of the International Classification of Diseases.

The announcement was made June 19.

Transgender and related categories were moved to a new chapter, "Conditions Related to Sexual Health" in the 11th edition of the ICD.

Previously, transgender was listed under mental and behavioral disorders.

"The rationale being that while evidence is now clear that it is not a mental disorder, and indeed classifying it in this can cause enormous stigma for people who are transgender, there remain significant health care needs that can best be met if the condition is coded under the ICD," WHO experts said in a statement following the announcement, reported Global News.

Transgender activists praised the decision.

"This is the result of tremendous effort by trans and gender diverse activists from around the world to insist on our humanity, and I am elated that the WHO agrees that gender identity is not a mental illness," Julia Ehrt, executive director of Transgender Europe, said in a statement following the decision.

Others wasted no time in urging governments to update all government-issued documents pertaining to transgender individuals and to implement an easier process for changing a person's sex on birth certificates.

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell or oitwnews@gmail.com.

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