PARIS – The shocking photo of a homophobic attack victim in Paris that went viral on social media this week and caused the French interior minister to weigh in was used as an emblem in a pro-gay rally Wednesday evening.
The image of Wilfred de Bruijn’s cut and bruised face was brandished by gay groups during a demonstration of several thousand people as evidence of their claim that homophobic acts have tripled nationwide over opposition to a law legalizing gay marriage.
This week, the French senate will conclude its debate on a law legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption, which is expected to pass. It’s been a rocky run since it was unveiled last November by President Francois Hollande’s Socialists and split the majority-Catholic country.
But whichever way the Senate votes, the image of De Bruijn’s battered face has made for a symbolic end to five months of bitterly divisive protests.
De Bruijn was beaten unconscious near his home early Sunday in central Paris, sustaining five fractures in his head and face, abrasions and a lost tooth. His boyfriend, who was also beaten up, said he witnessed three to four men shouting “Hey, look they’re gays,” before they attacked. The incident has shocked France, and garnered support far and wide as a gay “cause celebre.” On Tuesday night, Interior Minister Manuel Valls called De Bruijn personally to express his shock.
“I certainly feel there’s been an increase in homophobia,” De Bruijn told The Associated Press at his apartment in Paris’ working class 19th district, where the attack took place.
“What (the anti-gay marriage campaign) are saying is that they’re not homophobic: lesbians and gays are nice people, but don’t let them get close to children — that’s very dangerous. It’s OK for them to live together, but not like other couples with the same protection because it’s not really the same thing,” De Bruijn said.
“These people are all professionals of the spoken word. They know very well what can happen if you repeat, repeat, repeat that these people are lower human beings. Of course it will have a result.”
In light of the attack — which has forced members of the anti-gay marriage campaign to defend themselves — 30 gay associations organized the anti-homophobia rally for Wednesday. Associations SOS Homophobia and Refuge have used De Bruijn’s case to highlight the spike they’ve recorded in homophobia since the gay marriage bill was announced last year. Both associations report that homophobic acts — verbal and physical — in the first three months of 2013 have tripled compared with the same period in 2012.
Meanwhile, Frigide Barjot, the stage name of an activist who has led protests against the bill, insisted the anti-gay marriage movement is opposed to violence. Speaking on RMC radio Wednesday, Barjot was careful to distance herself from a rightwing movement called the “French Spring,” whose name was supposedly inspired by the revolutionary values of 2011’s “Arab Spring.”
“We don’t want violence. We denounce this violence and these acts, we have nothing to do with (Catholic) fundamentalists or extremists,” she said.
Not so, for De Bruijn.
“It was not Frigide Barjot who was hitting my head, or the bishop of Avignon lurking in that street to attack us,” he said. “But they are responsible.”
Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP