Taken from a speech delivered for the Camden LGBT Forum at Birkbeck University on Friday 17th May, 2013:
Manif Pour Tous are not directly targeting homosexuals for instead they are targeting a much broader and potentially far more powerful social group to sway to their side: the moderate middle. By moderate middle I refer to those members of the populace who are neither strictly left nor ring-wing affiliated; those who are not anti-equal rights but are not necessarily supporters of equal rights either. In political campaigns this group is often referred to by the term 'swing voters', and can form the active focus of a candidate's election plan, for swing voters bring strength by virtue of their sheer numbers.
Manif Pour Tous translates into English as 'March for All' and they claim to be representing the silent majority of France. Conveniently a silent majority does not have a voice of its own to deny Manif Pour Tous this representation. The organisation specifically does not align itself with known right-wing groups, such as Marine le Pen's much maligned National Front party, where a NF councillor named Richard Jacob hit the headlines in February of this year for shouting homophobic abuse and attacking gay rights activists. By distancing themselves from these actions, dubious comedienne Frigide Barjot and her cohorts can lay claim to a much more populist and moderate appeal.
So how do Manif Pour Tous go about targeting the moderate middle? Firstly, they ubiquitously proclaim themselves to be neither homophobic nor in any way anti-homosexual. It may seem like a disarmingly obvious point but if a political organisation such as Manif Pour Tous declare in all their publically available literature that they are of a certain sentiment then average members of the public, those who make up the moderate middle, can feel safer in supporting them. Even if the truth of their actual policies are glaringly different to this public sentiment.
Manif Pour Tous have stated they are not homophobic and therefore they can not be oppressors; anybody from the general public of France can freely join in with their cause and not feel as if they are colluding with bigotry. And their policies, as painted by Manif Pour Tous upon their website, quite clearly display themselves as protectors. Protectors of the institution of marriage, protectors of the word marriage, protectors of the French Civil Code, protectors of as yet unborn children's rights. In particularly effusive moments they are also the protectors of, I quote, 'humanity', 'human kind', 'human identity' and 'anthropological order'.
My point is that to the typical, and presumably heterosexual, member of the moderate middle, these policies are designed to appear non-toxic and appeal to everyone. Manif Pour Tous, after all, is the March for All. The trouble is they are not the March for All, but the March for All except Some, and this 'some' in the very wording of their policies becomes the active opposition of the 'all'. If there is a need for protectors of marriage, the Civil Code and children then it stands to reason that by Manif Pour Tous's logic there must be aggressors against these things. If Manif Pour Tous are the self-proclaimed protectors of humanity itself then there must be some who are a threat to that humanity. This 'some' automatically must be the LGBT population of France.
One of Manif Pour Tous's purportedly valorous claims is that by protecting marriage they create greater social cohesion, yet as they gain greater numbers to their cause they are spreading social dissent, pitting a swayable moderate middle against a minority group that already faces considerable challenges. At their 300,000 strong rally in Paris on March 24th the slogans had progressed to take on a new angle: the economy. 'On veut du boulot, pas du marriage homo', read the placards, meaning 'we want jobs, not gay marriage!' By affecting this stance Manif Pour Tous achieve a double whammy. They lessen the status of Francois Hollande's pro-gay marriage government in the eyes of their supporters: why are you, Francois, wasting time on the gay marriage issue when you should be improving our economy? And they deepen the divisions they have already instigated between their supporters and the LGBT community: why are you, homosexuals, getting undue attention from the government when I am, according to Manif Pour Tous, getting nothing but a havoc-wrecked Civil Code?
Using the economy as a weapon is clever for it automatically widens Manif Pour Tous's net appeal and message from just the moderate middle to all those who are seriously affected by a bad economy and lack of jobs. This includes France's notoriously volatile and disaffected youth. I am not stating that all the homophobic attacks recently in France occurred from this group, nor am I saying that violence of this kind was explicitly Manif Pour Tous's intention, but statistically speaking abuse of any minority group, and specifically violent abuse, is more likely to be rooted in the disgruntled of society than the advantaged. And it is true that the spate of attacks upon gay people in France have risen sharply since Manif Pour Tous began focussing on the economy, with their message conveyed to all via their significant presence in France's national media.
Gay rights watchdog SOS Homophobie recording a 27% spike in phone calls to report 1,977 homophobic attacks in the run-up to the equal marriage debate. Wilfred de Bruijn was severely beaten when walking home arm-in-arm with his lover through Paris on the 6th April; on the same night a group calling themselves 'Le Printemps Francais' or 'French Spring' defaced a LGBT centre in the capital, filming the video to put on Youtube. Within a week of each other later in April a gay cabaret dancer was beaten unconscious in Nice, and four young men attacked a gay bar in Lille, punching the manager and targeting customers. When interviewed afterwards the bar manager stated 'it is fashionable to be against gays right now.'
Did Manif Pour Tous organise any of these attacks? I do not believe so. But did their outspoken policies and media presence pave the way for these attacks, for it to be 'fashionable to be gays right now'? Almost certainly so. Indeed should these attackers look around them to assuage their consciences, it would seem, according to Manif Pour Tous, that the moderate middle majority and the mood of their country is with them. And as their policies and propaganda have worked, the words of Manif Pour Tous have gained a more incendiary, and violent, flare to their phrasing. When Francois Hollande pushed the same-sex marriage bill through in a surprise move, weeks earlier than expected, an enraged Frigide Barjot's exact words were: 'Hollande wants blood. And he shall get it.'
Manif Pour Tous attracted an estimated 300,000 demonstrators to their March 24th parade in Paris, on the same day they attempted to organise a similar demonstration in Trafalgar Square in London where they attracted an estimated two thousand supporters. Comfortingly, it was estimated that just as many anti-Manif Pour Tous and pro-gay marriage protestors turned up to Trafalgar Square also that day. It would seem that the UK right now is in fact more liberal than France; a swing of history from the days when disgraced English noblemen would flee across the channel to seek the protection of France's Napoleonic code against accusations of perversion back home. Yet this is not to say that the UK is not without its own political organisation aiming to sway a moderate middle to its dubious cause: namely the UK Independence Party, commonly known as UKIP.
UKIP of course is an established political party whereas Manif Pour Tous is, for the moment, a political organisation but there are still similarities in their respective courses of action. UKIP is traditionally best known for seeking Britain's withdrawal from the EU, as evidenced by its full name, but in recent years a BBC News analysis states 'the party has sought to broaden its appeal beyond that single issue, [and] it has developed a full range of policies in all areas.' UKIP has adopted both right and left wing positions in these policies, leading some critics to state 'it is simply a shopping list of populist positions that have not been properly costed.' Indeed, when researching this speech I found upon a UKIP forum a 'trusted member' named Steve UKIP announce 'UKIP are a moderate middle of the road centre party'. My intention here is to illustrate that despite what their populist policies may say, the actions of UKIP's candidates have shown them certainly not to be a middle of the road party.
UKIP's policy on gay marriage is that they support the concept of civil partnerships, but oppose the move to legislate for same-sex marriage, on account of it risking 'the grave harm of undermining the rights of Churches and Faiths to decide for themselves whom they will and will not marry.' This line may sound reasonable enough on paper. However, it does not take into account the quadruple lock written into the current legislation explicitly designed to prevent any pastor, priest or clergyman from being forced to marry a gay couple against their faith. UKIP are founding their opposition to same-sex marriage upon a foundless position. When asked to justify this stance UKIP's leader Nigel Farage announced 'we don't think these safeguards are strong enough', because legal advice had informed them the European Court of Human Rights could overturn these safeguards at the highest level of appeal. UKIP thereby take the matter back to their original cause, and even go so far as to say they may consider supporting same-sex marriage if the UK were to pull out of the ECHR. The implications of this happening I shall speak about shortly.
But first I want to look more closely at UKIP's taken stance against equal marriage, especially in the context of the populist policies it is cloaking itself in to woo the moderate middle. As Manif Pour Tous paint themselves the righteous protectors of France, UKIP attempt to create their own minority group of which they are the honourable champions: the Churches and faiths quaking in fear at the tyrannical homosexuals who are going to force them to perform equal marriage the second the bill is passed. Aside from the quadruple lock, this argument does not logically consider the wishes of homosexual couples themselves. A wedding is assumed to be the happiest day of a couple's lives, when they are joined in union. What couple would want this union to be fissured by a minister performing against their wishes?
UKIP, in fact, cleverly re-angle the mirror of appearance here. No longer is the LGBT community of Britain the minority group poised to gain equal rights and status in the eyes of the law, but the clergymen UKIP claim to be seeking protection for become the oppressed theoretical victims: a bill created for equality is doused, as spun through UKIP's prism, with an element of fascism. To the moderate middle this may seem a weighty argument; they may have no defined opinion either way on the matter of gay marriage, but they know that forcing people to act against their wishes is wrong. And they are not being homophobic because UKIP supports civil partnerships. In fact, UKIP might even support same-sex marriage if the UK were to pull out of the European Court of Human Rights.
The European Court of Human Rights which upholds the European Convention of Human Rights which provides protection and safety to minority groups across Europe. Minority groups like the LGBT population of the UK. If UKIP came to power and we pulled out of the European Union and the European Convention of Human Rights then they would essentially be the highest power to answer to regarding the rights of LGBT citizens in the UK. But that's fine because UKIP aren't homophobic, are they?
Unfortunately, far beyond their position on same-sex marriage, there are reports and accounts of homophobia riddling the UKIP party and its representatives, stretching back to its inauguration. Two of the most recent cases of their candidates expressing homophobic views occurred in May of this year. John Sullivan, the UKIP candidate for Newent, said that physical exercise in schools would prevent homosexuality and congratulated Russia for banning gay pride parades in Moscow. David Nixon, UKIP candidate for Stone Rural, circulated a homophobic leaflet around his constituency containing several anti-gay sentiments, including that equality would lead to the homosexual abuse of children. The leaftlet ends with a very Manif Pour Tous type statement: 'where will it end? A child should have the right to a mother and father.'
There are too many instances to list individually here within the time limits but various UKIP candidates have frequently compared homosexuality to paedophilia and child abuse, such as Mike Mendoza in 2009 and Winston McKenzie in 2012, named it a mental illness, Dr Julia Gasper in 2009, an abhorrence, Geoffrey Clark in 2012, and stated that they will actively try and remove equality laws should they come to power, Gary Cockril in 2010. At the start of this year both Olly Neville, the chairman of its youth wing, and UKIP candidate Richard Lowe were forced out of the party for voicing their support for equal rights. UKIP is a party of many voices but I fear in truth that it is not a party of the middle ground. Its continuing appeal to the moderate middle of Britain should worry us.
My final point to make, in concluding this talk tonight, is about complacency. And not just the complacency of the moderate middle: the complacency of the LGBT community itself of both France and the UK. Having lived in both countries within the last two years I can vouch that the majority of young, twenties generation gay people are not only not politically active but not politically aware. We cannot expect everyone in the gay community to take to the streets bearing placards but to know what is going on around us, to take an interest in our own rights, is a step towards thwarting those who would stamp out equality. We can't rely on Peter Tatchell and a small host of liberal-minded politicians to do the job for us. The likes of Manif Pour Tous and UKIP may be dismissed or laughed off as nutjobs and crazies, but they have method and organisation to their madness and with that is coming power. Manif Pour Tous have another demonstration in Paris planned for May 26th and UKIP have just won an unprecedented amount of votes at local election level in the UK. Can we halt the marches of these movements? Only perhaps if we begin halting our own complacency first.