Celebrating LGBTQ History in France

A photo of a rainbow flag to commemorate LGBTQ history in France.

This past weekend was Paris Pride. At least, if would have been, had it not been postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Paris Pride, formerly known as the Marche des Fiertés LGBT, is now scheduled for November 7th, and while I look forward to that celebration, I did take some time this weekend to reflect on the LGBTQ history in France in honour of Pride month. It’s a fascinating history, and almost made up for the fact that I should have been dancing in a sea of rainbows. Almost. Below are some of my highlights from France’s LGBTQ history.

Historic Firsts

On the corner of Rue Bachaumont and Rue Montorgueil, a plaque commemorates the location where Jean Diot and Bruno Lenoir were arrested on January 4th, 1750. A city watchman found them having sex together, and as a result, they were put on trial for engaging in homosexual activities, and ultimately executed on July 6th. Today, they are recognized as the last people to be put to death in France for the crime of homosexuality. 41 years later, homosexuality was officially decriminalized during the French Revolution in 1791. In fact, France was the first Western European country to do so. In 2010, France also became the first country in the world to declassify transgenderism as a mental illness. There is still work to be done in France regarding the equal treatment of its LGBTQ citizens, but these were certainly historic firsts.

The Beautiful Marais

The Marais district is one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Paris. It’s beautiful, historically fascinating, and packed with museums and cultural spaces. It’s also the city’s gay district, meaning there’s rainbows galore. The next time you’re in Paris, be sure to spend some time strolling through the narrow streets of the Marais. Enjoy a drink on a terrace during the day, or partake in the vibrant nightlife once the sun goes down. And yes, there really is a bakery that sells penis shaped pastries.

Influential Artists

There have been many incredible LGBTQ artists who have called Paris their home over the years. Today, you can visit Le Select, the cafe where James Baldwin wrote much of Giovanni’s Room. You can visit the Moulin Rouge, where an onstage kiss between Colette and Mathilde “Missy” de Morny caused a sensation in 1907. And you can find the plaque at 27 rue de Fleurus, which marks the former home of Gertrude Stein and her legendary Saturday night salons. Perhaps the most famous pilgrimage is to the tomb of Oscar Wilde in the Père Lachaise cemetery. It used to be a tradition to kiss the tomb to leave behind a lipstick print. However, after decades of wear on the stone, a glass partition now protects the structure. There’s no rule against kissing the glass, but for sanitary reasons I’d advise against it.

Chevalier d’Éon

There are countless incredible LGBTQ individuals in the history of France. I’ve already written about Julie d’Aubigny, but another personal favourite is the Chevalier d’Éon. His story is simply incredible. Among his many, many exploits, d’Éon was a member of Louis XV’s infamous secret spy ring. He later became a solider and a diplomat who helped negotiate the end of the Seven Year’s War. He was then exiled from France, and threatened to release diplomatically sensitive documents if his exile wasn’t lifted. D’Éon was eventually allowed to return, but under the condition that he return as a woman.

This was because at the time, d’Éon claimed to have been born female. He said that his father had raised him as a male for inheritance reasons, but he had always been a female. The court of Lous XVI welcomed him back as one, and d’Éon spent the next 30 years living as a woman. He later returned to England where he made a living as a female fencer, and ultimately died in poverty in 1810 at the age of 81. The autopsy revealed that he had both fully formed male organs and female characteristics, leading historians to suggest that d’Éon was transgender or intersex. Regardless of the label, I can’t wait for the Hollywood biopic. D’Éon truly had an incredible life.

LGBTQ Tourism in Paris

In addition to history, I took some time this weekend to look into LGBTQ tourism companies and resources in Paris. Unsurprising, my list of tours to experience this summer has now grown substantially. In particular, I’m looking forward to joining a tour with The Gay Locals and Gay Paris Village. There’s also many incredible resources for gay clubs, restaurants, saunas, and events, including Queer Paris, Queer in the World, and Two Bad Tourists. Some of the events have unfortunately been cancelled, but the rest are open and ready to be experienced.

Celebrating Paris Pride

France has an incredible and vibrant LGBTQ history and culture. I know it may be a while before people can visit Paris again, but when you do, just know that everyone is welcome here. And I do mean everyone. In the meantime, stay safe, wash your hands, and Happy Pride! I’ll see you in November.