The first round of the French elections this Sunday has drawn a freaky comparison with the 2016 U.S. elections, as the “populist” extreme right-winger and friend of Vladimir Putin seems likely to trump 11 candidates for president. Lurking in the background are hand-rubbing forces, including anti-gay marriage creeps like the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown, hoping for a French breakup with the European Union and greater influence with anti-LGBT religious opportunists.
Still, it is a lingering fantasy of many a sophisticated apolitical gay couple to enjoy a hand-in-hand stroll down the Champs Élysées, Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” wafting in the early evening air as the street lamps turn on in the City of Lights. Perhaps a quiet stop under the Arc de Triomphe for a spontaneous proposal? After all, France is one of 22 nations that recognize the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.
But the Champs Élysées was anything but romantic Thursday night, April 20 when a machine-gun wielding 39-year old French national opened fire on police, fatally shooting one and wounding two others before the assailant was killed. According to the New York Times, the dead police officer was Xavier Jugele, 37, who was openly gay and in a civil union with his partner, with whom he had a child. Reports say a note defending ISIS tumbled out of the shooter’s pocket and the terrorist group very quickly claimed credit for the murders. Apparently, a larger ISIS plot to disrupt the April 24elections had been foiled.
Immediately, media outlets like The Guardian in the UK speculated that the attack was intended to interfere in the elections in favor of National Front right-wing extremist Marine Le Pen, just as Osama Bin Laden’s video impacted the 2004 election in favor of George W. Bush. A Le Pen victory would result in increased tensions in the large Muslim minority community, sowing the ground for ISIS recruitment, a closing of borders and a Brexit-like exit from the European Union.
The attack may have helped Le Pen in the polls, with her lead over centrist Emmanuel Macron having slipped recently. The two are now in a statistical three-way tie with conservative former Prime Minister François Fillon. The top two candidates will qualify for the decisive run-off on May 7.
“To this ephemeral government worn out by its inertia, I demand the immediate restoration of our national borders,” Le Pen said at a news conference following the attack. Donald Trump tweeted that Le Pen was the strongest candidate—a ringing endorsement that simultaneously shocked everyone and no one. But this is France and even to some Le Pen supporters who like Trump (or at least alt-right hero Steve Bannon), the endorsement may be sneered at as outside interference, unlike the very diplomatic-looking handshake and photo-op Le Pen had with Russian President Vladimir Putin last March.
Le Pen’s supporters do not seem to care that she is being investigated for alleged misuse of Parliament funds and for “dissemination of violent images” by tweeting graphic photos of ISIS killings in 2015. And in a country stricken by fear of terrorism, Le Pen talking of ISIS murdering gay men is a conscious wooing of gay voters.
Pointing to the murder of 49 mostly gay Latinos at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Le Pen noted that the American-born killer had pledged allegiance to ISIS and “how much homosexuality is attacked in countries that live under the Islamist jackboot.”
“Faced with the current threats, particularly from radical Islam, gays have realized they’ll be the first victims of these barbarians, and only Marine is proposing radical solutions,” Le Pen supporter Kelvin Hopper, 25, told the Associated Press for an April 7 report.
Openly gay Sebastien Chenu, Le Pen’s National Front Chief Campaign Strategist, told AP that there has been a spike in support for the extremist party out of fear of terrorism. “Those who want to fight against freedoms are Islamic radicals,” Chenu said. “They put bombs in gay night clubs in the United States. So obviously, it creates an anxiety for a certain number of gays.”
The AP reports that “several years of polls have shown the National Front is now more popular with the LGBT voters who make up 6.5 percent of the French electorate than it is with straight voters.”
IFOP, a French polling firm, says its surveys show a “constant progression” of gays, lesbians and bisexuals supporting the party under Le Pen. “At 16.5 percent” last fall, AP reports, gay support “was 2 percentage points higher than its share of straight voters.”
Le Pen, a deputy in the European Parliament, also demonstrated a kind of gay allegiance when she stood by National Front Vice President Florian Philippot after he was outed by a tabloid. Philippot is credited with rebranding Le Pen into an economic populist, away from the Nazi-loving extremism of her NF party-founding father.
However, Macron, a banker and former Socialist government minister, has been heretofore more favored by the LGBT community, getting a boost from an allegedly Russian-planted “fake news” story claiming he was secretly gay and cheating on his older wife. “If I had been a homosexual, I would say it and I would live it,” Macron told the gay publication Têtu.
Both Macron and Le Pen catered to anti-gay Catholics after the resurfacing of the anti-gay marriage French coalition La Manif Pour Tous (Demonstration For All) in October 2016, with 24,000 demonstrators demanding that candidates pledge to repeal the marriage law. Le Pen made the pledge, later promising civil unions. Macron bowed, too, telling l’Obs that people who opposed marriage equality had been “humiliated” by a government that had ignored “a part of the country which has good reasons to live in resentment and sad passions.”
Candidate pledges and victimhood appeals are tactics promoted by the U.S.-based anti-LGBT, Catholic-minded National Organization for Marriage, which wants to play its hand in the French elections, too. Socialist President Francois Hollande signed marriage legislation on May 18, 2013 amid violent clashes and thousands of protesters decrying the scuttling of traditional family values as the fall of Western civilization. In the wings was NOM President Brian Brown, who advised, trained and supported La Manif Pour Tous. And though the protests subsided, the relationship between La Manif Pour Tous leader Ludovine de la Rochere and Brown blossomed, with de la Rochere flying to Washington DC to speak at NOM’s June 19, 2014 Marriage March. The two apparently wanted to collude again, this time to influence the French elections in presidential elections in May and the legislative elections in June, arguing for traditional family values.
Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson isn’t buying NOM’s influence or the possibility of Catholic pressure successfully rolling back marriage equality.
“I doubt NOM is involved in any meaningful way, as it has no actual depth,” says Wolfson. “But right-wing anti-gay hacks such as Brian Brown are colluding with anti-gay forces such as Vladimir Putin and parts of the Catholic hierarchy, and if there is any certainty at all, it is that he and other shills will be eager to claim credit for another blow to liberal democracy, if they are able to pull it off.”
Charlie Rounds, Executive Director of Alturi, an online LGBT international advocacy organization, agrees.
“Marine Le Pen is as religious as a dead cockroach,” Rounds, an unabashed Francophile, said recently, before the terrorist attack. “But if this truly is an election about the stalling economy, how would repealing marriage equality benefit the economy?”
Meanwhile, thanks to his French and Russian connections, Brown has broadened his reach. He was elected president of the radically anti-LGBT World Congress of Families, which he quickly turned into a program of a new enterprise, the International Organization for the Family. Under the IOF auspices, the World Congress World of Families XI will hold its annual summit from May 25-28 in “family-friendly” Budapest, Hungary. The goal is to “launch a new global pro-family alliance of countries dedicated to defending marriage, the family and the sanctity of human life.” The theme has a familiar resonance: “Building Family-Friendly Nations: Making Families Great Again.” The new group would presumably benefit from the breakup of the progressive European Union.
No one knows what anti-LGBT mischief Brown and others might attempt to create if Le Pen wins. Candidate Donald Trump waved an upside Rainbow Flag and thanked the audience at the Republican National Convention when he promised to protect L.G.B.T. Q. people—and then he hired the most anti-LGBT Cabinet in history and his administration immediately started erasing LGBT and AIDS from the government website and rolling back protections. Will Le Pen dump her conservative gay cronies, repeal marriage equality and ignore the anti-LGBT hate crimes that don’t get the same notice as terrorism?
Rounds and others believe that Socialists and liberals will hold the legislature in France’s June 11 and 18 elections. Others are not so sure, especially if national security and fear of terrorism dominate the debate.
But with fear and attendant hate crimes on the rise, one wonders if this year’s Marche des Fiertés LGBT—Gay Pride in Paris—on June 24, will still be a demonstration of freedom and resistance under the Arc de Triomphe.
Karen Ocamb is a Senior Contributing Writer to The Los Angeles Blade.