On the Val de Scarpe esplanade, on the outskirts of the city center of Arras, a handful of volunteers are busy under a radiant sun. The bungalows of the associative village are in place, as are the security barriers. The main stage, rented for the occasion, will be set up on Friday at dawn. Everything should be ready in time to host the concerts organized as part of the festival of the Fiertés Pas-de-Calais association, Friday June 9 and Saturday June 10, the day of the Arras pride march.
In 2022, 4,000 people had marched through the streets of the city of 40,000 inhabitants, according to Romain Hequet, president and founder of the association for the fight against discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi and transsexual people (LGBT) in the department. And they were more than 12,000 to participate in the festival as a whole. Mickaël Billebault, a 39-year-old insurance broker and volunteer with the association for almost three years, hopes to do better this year. An enthusiasm that is not diminished by the repeated attacks against the LGBT center opened by the association in September 2022.
LGBT centers, targets of the far right
Well identified by posters and logos in a street in the city center, this premises of about sixty square meters, refurbished, allows the association to have “an anchor, a constant and identified place”. It houses a relaxation area, a library of LGBT books (“the only one north of Paris”, boasts Mickaël) and an associative bar, then a room dedicated to hotlines and screening for sexually transmitted diseases.
The premises are the target of recurrent damage. The rainbow flag flying above the entrance has been torn down six times. The facade is targeted almost daily by collages of posters, jets of urine or spitting. The association “systematically lodges a complaint”, explains Mickaël Billebault, who is a member of the board of directors and has obtained the installation of a surveillance camera by the municipality.
Romain Hequet says that a “extreme right group”, a local branch of Action Française, was already attacking the association on social networks. Its activists now regularly stick stickers symbolizing fleur-de-lis on the facade. For the flag and the spitting, on the other hand, the president of the association does not designate a culprit. “It is surely the fact of a few people, a tiny minority who do not represent the inhabitants of Arras, which is a very tolerant city”, he describes.
➡️ HOMOPHOBIC DEGRADATIONS 🤬
In a few days, dozens of spittle covered the windows of the #CentreLGBT Pride Pas-de-Calais with impunity… for months… @VilleArras@GrandArras@pasdecalais62@Prefet62pic.twitter.com/bM5QjTJFu0
– Pride Pas-de-Calais (@Fiertespdc) May 31, 2023
4,040 “anti-LGBT” attacks were recorded in 2022
Attacks have multiplied in recent months in France. The Tours LGBT center was targeted on May 22 by an explosive device, which caused no injuries. In Réunion, the OriZon center was burned down in February. In Nantes or Perpignan, the centers are regularly targeted by LGBTphobic message tags, sometimes accompanied by Celtic crosses, symbols of the ultra-right. “The French far right has always fought for equal rights and recognition of LGBT people. Behind these acts, there are organized conservative and reactionary movements,” says Joël Deumier, co-president of SOS Homophobia.
“It’s worrying, because the centers are supposed to be safe places, where LGBT people can find themselves in safety,” he continues. In its 2023 report on LGBTphobia, the association indicates that reports of physical assaults increased by 28% in 2022 compared to 2021: 4,040 “anti-LGBT” attacks were recorded in 2022 by the Ministry of the Interior. . Figures “worrying” according to Gérald Darmanin, who announced on May 20 the strengthening of the security of certain places soon to be identified.
In the meantime, Mickaël Billebault remains determined in the face of violence. “We are not going to hide or be silent,” he said, just after once again hoisting the rainbow flag in front of the association’s premises.