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If elected, Bertrand Delanoë would be the first openly gay mayor of a world-class city.

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Our ultra-queer coverage.

hotel de ville, paris
Hôtel de Ville, Paris. François Le Divenah

Outing In Gay Paree

by Ana Simo

OCTOBER 30, 2000. A young, up-and-coming conservative politician is outed. A pillar of the conservative political establishment amiably chats with the editors of a racy gay magazine. The front-runner in the upcoming mayoral election is an out gay man. San Francisco? Amsterdam? Barcelona? No, it's Paris this Fall, quickly shedding, at least politically, its obnoxious, Kansas-by-the-Seine hetero provincialism.

romeroThe outed pol is the boyishly cute Jean-Luc Romero, who is expected to run for the National Assembly on the conservative RPR ticket in the trendy, gay-friendly Marais district in Paris. He is the first politician ever outed in the history of France.

The pillar of the conservative establishment is his patron, RPR heavyweight Philippe Séguin, the former (heterosexual) Assembly President now courting the gay vote as he runs for Mayor of Paris in the March 2001 election, probably as a stepping stone to run for the presidency of the country in 2002.

The mayoral front-runner—he is 18 points ahead of Séguin in a poll released today—is the openly, yet reticently gay Socialist, Bertrand Delanoë. If elected, he would be the first openly gay mayor of a world-class city.

Romero's Big Splash
emaleThe recently outed, conservative Romero is suing the gay magazine e.m@le (circulation 20,000, distributed free mostly in Parisian gay bars), for breach of privacy. The magazine outed him in passing—inadvertently, they now say—in an October 19 article on the upcoming elections.

Romero's outing has been making a big splash in the French media for the past two weeks. The visibility payoff has been huge for a queer community that remains largely invisible to the mainstream media, in spite of some gains made in recent years during the bitter, protracted public debate on civil unions. A watered-down bill, uniquely French in its subtlety, was finally approved by parliament last year. It allows all unmarried people to get hitched (up to a point, of course), including queers and ... siblings.

Reactions to Romero's outing were contrary to all logic. The mainstream media, no friend to queers, reported it factually and well, with no editorializing. So did most of the major local gay media. One notable exception was, a franchise of the San Francisco-based company, which lambasted the presumed outers in an editorial.

Gay Anti-Outing Frenzy
Outing should be reserved for those who, unlike Romero, "say or do something homophobic in spite of their sexual orientation," said. This argument, reprised by other gay critics of Romero's outing, probably had Descartes roiling in his grave. It ignored both the intrinsic homophobia of any gay politician remaining in the closet and the debilitating effect that the dearth of publicly out figures continues to have on queer life in France.

Gay community spokesmen also unanimously condemned Romero's outing, some in vitriolic terms. From the National Association of Gay-Owned Businesses to the Paris Gay and Lesbian Center, which issued an intemperate communiqué, to the local ActUp, they all practically tripped over each other to pay fealty to traditional privacité.

The Center went as far as banning distribution of e.m@le in its premises. ActUp declared itself "shocked" by the outing, but, in a case of having its activist cake and eating it too, went on to decry the hypocrisy of those who selectively use "the public/private alibi" for gays only. ActUp had threatened to out closeted gay pols who had taken part in a huge homophobic anti-civil union march in Paris last year, but had then reneged on its threat.

Romero was probably not one of ActUp's targets: as an elected regional government officer in the Paris area he had supported the civil union bill and HIV/AIDS prevention. He now claimed that he had just been on the verge of coming out by himself when he was outed. "I wanted to come out in my own terms. I haven't even warned my mother!" he moaned.

But Romero, whose name and face are now known to millions who had never heard of him a few weeks ago, may be protesting too much. As ActUp noted, "it was Romero himself who spread the news when he declared himself a 'victim' and told the media that he was suing." Besides, being gay can only help Romero in the gay-heavy Marais.

Séguin Chasing The Queer Vote
seguinThe notion of a gay and lesbian vote, hitherto unknown in France, has suddenly emerged as a hot issue in the Paris mayoral and parliamentary elections. Even analysts who think the queer vote is not strong enough to swing the mayoral election (no one knows for sure, since no polls of potential queer voters have been conducted) agree that simply talking to gays lends candidates a tolerant aura that attracts many hetero voters.

This, and the fact that he is trailing badly at the polls against a gay opponent, is probably what made conservative mayoral candidate Philippe Séguin recently give a chatty interview to Illico (circulation 40,000), another freebie magazine mostly distributed in Parisian gay bars.

Séguin, who voted against the civil union bill in 1998 and abstained in 1999, and whose party harbors some of the most publicly homophobic politicians in France, promised to appoint a gay and lesbian liaison and launch a major HIV/AIDS and drug addiction prevention program if elected mayor. He also said that he would consider giving city funding to the Gay and Lesbian Center and perhaps even march in next year's Pride parade.

Séguin's interview, the first given by a major French right-wing candidate to a gay publication, also made a big splash in the French media at large, and triggered irritable reactions from the other side of the political spectrum.

Pro civil-union groups bitterly reminded the public that Séguin had done his best to sabotage the bill in parliament and that some of his close political associates had "publicly insulted gays" for months. Gay Socialists, who support Delanoë, called the interview "condescending" and "vapid."

More pointedly, the Communist Party accused Séguin of "avoiding answering questions, while exuding 'tolerance' just by talking to a gay magazine." Séguin, who told the magazine that he was "astonished" to find out that 25% of all France's AIDS cases were concentrated in the capital, "should be reminded that Paris has held the European record in this area for many years, during which his party has controlled the city," they said.

Delanoë's Reeking Closet
delanoeWhile the politically profitable gay aura sticks to the newly 'tolerant' Séguin and the outed Romero, the original openly gay candidate, Bertrand Delanoë continues to de-gayify himself beyond the call of electoral duty. In view of his conservative opponent's bold grab for the issue, Delanoë's desire not to be seen as a "gay specialist," as he puts it, which seemed reasonable enough even six months ago, is beginning to reek of the closet and could even turn into a political liability.

"We're not going to spend the whole program talking about that!" he recently snapped at a friendly TV host who tried to prod him to say something substantial about being gay. When asked by another TV network to react to Séguin's targetting the gay vote, Delanoë, who outed himself in 1998, primly said: “I don't treat any category of Parisian, gay or otherwise, as an electoral target."

The fact is, however, that the grab for the lesbian and gay vote is, "at the heart of the municipal electoral campaign in Paris," as the daily Le Monde recently said. "The Right and the Left are fighting for gay and lesbian 'clients' and each side is keeping an eye on each gay-friendly move by its opponent, no matter how minute."

At the Gay Pride March in Paris, in June, Pierre Bergé, the fiery CEO of Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture, gay philanthropist, and former Paris Opera honcho reportedly threw a fit when he saw Romero and other Séguinist elected officials marching (their mentor had skipped the march). "Right-wing and homosexuality? That's impossible!" Bergé snarled, then yelled: "Vous nos enmerdez, foutez le camp!"—roughly, “You're fucking bothering us! Get da fuck outta here!"

Bergé may have to bring a posse of Saint Laurent runway models to next year's Pride March to help him evict the gaggle of vote-hungry conservative politicians that might, just might, show up.

Related links:

For a look at the hopping lesbian and gay scene in Paris, see Time Out.

For the Paris Gay and Lesbian Center. (In French).

The e.m@le editors fight back! Read the reviled outers' interview in the legendary GaiPied. (In French)

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