France to create LGBTQ ambassador to promote rights around the world

The French government will create an ambassador's post to promote LGBTQ rights across the world, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Thursday.

France to create LGBTQ ambassador to promote rights around the world
Prime minister Elisabeth Borne announced the post, as well as funding for the creation of (Photo by REMY GABALDA / AFP)

The new envoy will coordinate the foreign ministry’s policy and act as “France’s voice” for the promotion of LGBTQ rights, Borne told an audience on the 40th anniversary of France’s abolition of a World War II-era law discriminating against homosexuals.

The ambassador, to be appointed by the end of the year, will “campaign for the decriminalisation everywhere of homosexuality and trans-identity”, she said during a visit to a LGBTQ centre in Orléans, central France.

Borne also announced a €3 million fund to add 10 new LGBTQ centres to the 35 already operating in France, which have been set up to help lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, as well as those with other sexual identities, “who don’t know who to turn to”.

Borne said discrimination “continues to exclude, injure and sometimes even kill” LGBTQ people.

She added: “The battle for the minds is not yet won.”

Borne insisted that there was “no ambivalence” among the members of President Emmanuel Macron’s government on their commitment to LGBTQ rights.

But she acknowledged there had been “hurtful comments” towards LGBTQ people, a reference to Regional Affairs Minister Caroline Cayeux, who joined the government in a reshuffle last month and who has been accused of homophobia over comments against same-sex marriage and adoption.

Speaking in the Senate in 2013, Cayeux said plans to legalise gay marriage at the time went “against nature”.

She then sparked outrage last month when, in an apparent attempt to defend herself, she said: “I have to say that I have a lot of friends among those people.”

 The 73-year-old later apologised on Twitter, saying her remarks had been “inappropriate”.

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French launches €14m ‘only yes means yes’ campaign on sexual consent

France's higher education ministry has launched a €14 million campaign around sexual consent, teaching students to seek explicit consent for any sexual encounter under the slogan 'sans oui, c'est interdit' (without a yes, it's forbidden).

French launches €14m 'only yes means yes' campaign on sexual consent

The campaign is hoping to teach students to: “Ask explicitly and look for an enthusiastic yes; Get into the habit of posing simple questions like ‘Do you want to?’ ‘Can I?’ ‘What do you like?’ and ‘What do you want us to experience together?’; Listen to the other person; Respect his or her desires and own limits; and finally, Accept No.”

Other prevention actions for the 2022 school year will include training sessions for dedicated anti-assault units in most of France’s universities. So far, over 900 teachers, students, and staff across the country have been trained. 

Ahead of week-ends d’intégration – or welcome weekends at the start of the school year, which are known for festivities and higher consumption of alcohol amongst the student body – posters with the new slogan “Without a ‘yes,’ it’s off limits” (Sans oui, c’est interdit) appeared across campuses in France to help educate students about consent.

Sylvie Retailleau, the Minister for Higher Education, stressed the importance of such actions in an interview with daily Le Parisien.

The minister explained that about “149,000 students in France are affected by sexual assault or attempted assault” each year. 

According to Retailleau, that number represents approximately four percent of the total student body (for higher education) in France.

With the annual budget doubling from €1.7 to €3.5 million per year, Retailleau intends for associations, such as the “National Association for Student Athletics” (Anestaps) to receive more grant money to help sexual assault prevention.

The consent awareness campaign will also partner with websites like Konbini to reach students online. Informative videos with advice and testimonies from students, as well as a consent quiz (consentest) will be posted across social media to help educate young people across the country.

Additionally, Anestaps will set up “safe spaces” during onboarding festivities and welcome weekends, to ensure that students who have been harassed or feel unsafe have a place to go to and a secure person to speak with.

The organisation will also use the ‘angel shots’ system during school events. Students who feel unsafe can order a fake drink at the bar and trust that the person behind the counter will understand it as code for needing help.

Schools will also set up investigation units, which will be free, confidential, and available to victims. The goal will be to encourage victims to file complaints, as well as to collect testimonies and reports. The units will offer students with legal, medical and psychological assistance.

Despite previous actions by the State to combat sexual assault in France’s universities, the problem has persisted. As a result, in 2021, the Ministry of Higher Education launched the multi-year plan (running until 2025).

The program was given a total budget of €7 million, which has now been doubled to €14 million.

The plan includes 21 measures, several of which were already taken up this past year. The steps are structured around four primary areas: widespread training of staff and students to respond to sexual assault, the reinforcement of reporting mechanisms, communication campaigns to spread awareness about consent and reporting mechanisms, and finally the promotion of student and staff commitment to combat sexual assault and gender-based violence on campuses.

In June, the public prosecutor’s office for Evry (Essonne) told AFP that it had opened several investigations for rape in the four major French universities of the area, including the renowned establishments of Polytechnique and Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), after receiving “several complaints” of sexual assault.

Sexual assault in France is defined as “any forced sexual contact” and it is punishable by 5 years of imprisonment and a €75,000 fine (Article 222-27 of the Penal Code)”

Neighbouring Spain has recently passed a ground-breaking ‘only yes means yes’ law on sexual consent, meaning that consent must be affirmative and cannot be assumed to have been given by default, or by silence.