Would you be shocked if I told you a mob in France ganged up on a gay couple and beat them badly enough that one thought he was going to die and both ended up in the hospital? The story is shocking in a way, but has powerful lessons to teach about religious disdain for LGBTQI people and about how churches must start behaving more morally. As Christian friends of mine say, churches need to become more Christian and less hateful.
This happened last night in a French tourism hot spot
A gay French couple were gathered with family for Bastille Day and fireworks on the French island of Corsica. Before the evening ended, religious insults were flung and both men were badly beaten by a large crowd while a larger crowd looked on.
They heard the crowd chanting ‘pédés!’ pédés! pédés!’ as if happy to have driven them out of the village.
One of the men, while he was being kicked and punched, remembered Samuel Luiz, a gay man in Spain beaten to death by a homophobic crowd earlier this month. He feared he would share Samuel’s fate.
He almost did.
It all started when a group of youths aged about 15 to 20 spotted the couple dancing in a club with straight family members. The young people jeered and mocked the couple. Then one of them approached and showed off a photo of somebody urinating on a rainbow flag. He flashed a Christian cross and said being homosexual is “against nature.”
The gay couple, whom the French pro-LGBTQI publication TÊTU identifies only as Benoît and Mickaël, say they remained calm but left the club to take a stroll in the village of Macinaggio. They wanted to get some air and get away from the crowd of hostile youths.
They did not succeed in de-escalating.
The original youth who flashed the Christian cross spotted the men in the village and started hurling insults again. Another man grabbed Mickaël’s arm and called him a pédé, short for pédéraste, a highly inflammatory French pejorative for gay men.
That’s when everything blew up.
A crowd of about 20 descended on Benoît and Mickaël, beating them while a crowd of about 60 looked on. Mickaël told TÊTU that the onlookers acted as if they were grabbing popcorn to enjoy the show.
Mickaël says he took five blows before getting cornered between two cars and set on by 10 men. He told TÊTU blows were raining down so fast he feared for his life. “Heureusement que je n’ai pas perdu connaissance, qui sait ce qui aurait pu se passer… est-ce que je serais encore en vie ?”
My translation: “Fortunately, I didn’t lose consciousness, who knows what might have happened; would I still be alive?”
He says he was thinking of murdered Samuel Luiz at that moment, just as police alerted by Benoît’s family arrived at the scene. But the crowd wasn’t done. From inside an ambulance rushing them to the hospital, the couple say they heard the crowd chanting ‘pédés! pédés! pédés!’ as if happy to have driven them out of the village.
From reporting released so far, the extent of the men’s injuries isn’t clear. At least one broken bone is involved, but they don’t appear to be in danger of losing their lives. According to franceinfo, local police are investigating the incident and a local prosecutor has opened a formal inquiry.
What does a Christian cross have to do with all this?
This incident, like the earlier mob killing in Spain, isn’t getting much press in the English speaking world, though LGBTQ Nation has written it up. And while accounts accurately reflect what the men told TÊTU and spelled out in their own Instagram accounts, reporters seem to be ignoring a large trumpeting elephant.
Nobody is reporting that this story revolves around Roman Catholicism, around Catholic Church teachings and practices that fire up hatred and violence against LGBTQI people.
Most English speakers probably think of France as being very accepting in terms of LGBTQ matters. After all, the French take secularism seriously today, and a look back into history reveals a society that didn’t tend to criminalize members of gender and sexual minorities.
That’s why Oscar Wilde fled to France after his prison term at hard labor for “sodomy” in England.
But the story of French homophobia is more complex than that. The State stayed out of sexual matters after the 18th century, relying on the Church to enforce cultural norms. The Church still takes that role seriously when it has the power to discriminate against LGBTQI people.
As the Christian Science Monitor reports, many parts of France today remain culturally conservative, with agencies run by the Catholic Church openly discriminating against LGBTQI people despite nominally supporting secularism — even in regions where the population has largely stopped attending church.
For example, while same-sex couples may legally marry and adopt in France, many “family councils” that must approve adoption petitions are dominated by Catholic clergy and conservative Catholic lay workers who oppose adoption by gay couples and rarely or never approve such adoptions.
While same-sex marriage barely ruffled big French cities like Paris, whose cosmopolitan population took it in stride when it became law 8 years ago, the same cannot be said universally. “Manif pour Tous” (Protest for All) is a largely Roman Catholic, far-right, racist coalition that led anti-marriage protests and continues to stir up controversy over adoption.
They are not shy about flinging homophobic stereotypes and insults. (When they aren’t busy stereotyping and reviling immigrants in starkly racist terms.)
Here comes that elephant
Much of France’s population has stopped going to church. While many French people still identify culturally as Catholic, most don’t practice the religion and fewer still give credence to Catholic teachings that condemn LGBTQI people with vicious language.
Corsica, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite. Ninety-two percent of the population identify as Catholic, and most of them describe themselves as practicing Catholics. Churches are packed on Sundays and public religious processions are common throughout the year.
This makes Corsica a very dangerous place for out queer people, which Benoît et Mickaël discovered all too well last night.
When that young man flashed a Christian cross and told them homosexuality is “against nature,” he was repeating a common Church teaching. Official Catholic teaching describes sex between same-sex couples as “acts of grave depravity.” Children learn in Catholic schools that gay people are disordered, a stance they will not back down from despite overwhelming evidence from practically every medical organization in the world that the Church is dead wrong.
Both the depravity and disordered teachings spring from a falsehood the Church spreads that homosexuality and transgender identity go against nature or “annihilate nature.”
Crowds often chant that nature nonsense where populations are majority Catholic. From Poland with its anti-gay street mobs and “LGBT Free” zones, to Italy where anti-gay street violence is a serious social problem, to Ghana and other West African nations where Catholic leaders call down hate on gay people and lobby politicians to put us in prison, Catholicism strikes fear into the hearts of queer people.
Even in the United States where we worry more about evangelical Christians and their alliance with Republicans, Catholic Church officials work hard to hurt queer people. Just last fall, the American Conference of Catholic Bishops lobbied Congress to kill a national suicide hotline just because it reaches out specifically to LGBTQI people in crisis.
Last month, the Vatican tried to use treaty powers to stop an Italian hate-crime law that adds queer people to protected categories, even though anti-queer hate crimes are endemic in Italy. Among other things, the Vatican was angry that the law does not exempt Catholic schools from participating in an annual event to teach about and work against homophobia and transphobia.
Nobody should be mocked and beaten over Christian teachings
I’m sure nobody would disagree with me that religion should never be an excuse for violence. But you know what? Even as Catholic bishops in Poland tell people violence is unacceptable, they compare LGBTQI advocates to Nazis and Soviet communists, referring to our Pride flag as a “rainbow scourge.”
Those Corsican boys last night weren’t the first to show off photos of people pissing on rainbow flags. That goes on in Poland all the time, often in crowds headed by Catholic priests and bishops.
A Catholic priest in Chicago burned a rainbow flag a couple years ago to the delight of his congregation. And while his bishop disciplined him over it, that doesn’t undo the damage.
That boy last night didn’t flash a cross and repeat Catholic teaching by accident. Twenty young men didn’t beat the shit out of two gay men by accident. Sixty people didn’t look on approvingly by accident.
They were hating on queer people just as they learn in church. That has to stop. It has to stop now.
I don’t care what your religious affiliation is; if you teach that LGBTQI people commit “acts of grave depravity,” you are teaching hate that will lead to violence. If you teach we are “disordered,” you are teaching hate that will lead to violence. If you teach we “go against nature,” you aren’t just wrong — you’re teaching hate that will lead to violence.
This isn’t complicated, it’s obvious.
Isn’t it time to stop the hate? Isn’t it time to stop the violence? I’m not a Christian, but I grew up with stories about Jesus and his followers. I don’t recognize Jesus in common Christian hate speech.
I don’t know if Benoît and Mickaël are people of faith, but I know they were terrified when they saw that cross flashed at them. If you’re a Christian, that should you tear you up inside.
Former Air Force intelligence analyst, longtime LGBTQ activist and alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, James Finn is an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, an “agented” novelist and a runner, Marine, Airman, polyglot and self-proclaimed “middle-aged, uppity faggot.” He blogs at Medium.