French Senate debates compensation for gay men jailed under homophobic laws

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An estimated 60,000 gay men were convicted by French courts between 1942 and 1982 under homophobic laws that were repealed just four decades ago. On Wednesday, French senators will discuss a bill acknowledging France’s role in the persecution of homosexuals and offering compensation to those still alive, mirroring steps taken elsewhere in Europe.

The proposal put forward by Socialist Senator Hussein Bourgi tackles a little-known subject in French history, shedding light on the judicial repression of homosexuals carried out by the French state both in wartime and after the country’s Liberation from Nazi rule.

France became the first country to decriminalise homosexuality during the Revolution of 1789, only to resume the persecution of gay men under subsequent regimes, through both judicial and extrajudicial means.

Bourgi’s text focuses on a 40-year period following the introduction of legislation that specifically targeted homosexuals under the Nazi-allied Vichy regime. The 1942 law, which was not repealed after the liberation of France, introduced a discriminatory distinction in the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual sex, setting the former at 13 (raised to 15 at the Liberation) and the latter at 21.

“People tend to think France was protective of gay people compared to, say, Germany or the UK. But when you look at the figures you get a very different picture,” said Schlagdenhaufen, who teaches at the EHESS institute in Paris.

Schlagdenhaufen said he hoped the senator’s text would set the foundation for further action.

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