Last week, along with many people in France, I watched a man say goodbye to his lover: In a moving eulogy delivered in front of dozens of officials and hundreds of police officers, Etienne Cardiles bid farewell to Xavier Jugelé, the policeman who was shot and killed on the Champs-Élysées on April 20. “You lived like a star, you leave like a star,” said Cardiles of his partner. “A life of joy and laughter, in which love and tolerance were your uncontested masters.”
In the midst of a divisive election year, the televised address was a startling moment of national unity centered around a man who was, it seems, unabashedly queer: An LGBTQ activist in his spare time, Jugelé was a member of Flag, an organization of French LGBTQ police officers, and had protested Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law in the lead up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics. According to Cardiles he was also “a man full of culture and joy, who loved music and film. Your favorite star was Celine Dion, and Zazie, Madonna, Britney Spears, and so many others who made our windows rattle.”
Such a public display of queer love was startling in a country that, for all its claim to liberté, has long struggled with LGBTQ rights. The passage of marriage equality in 2013 nearly tore the country apart, and sparked a new conservative movement called La Manif Pour Tous (roughly Protest for All), which has fought to defend “traditional” family values. In October of last year, 24,000 people marched on the streets of Paris to demand the gay marriage law be repealed. Center-right presidential candidate François Fillon, who received 20 percent of the vote in last Sunday’s first round of elections, ran on a platform to repeal gay adoption rights and, according to a prominent gay rights group, has a vision of France that is “clearly hostile to LGBT people.”
Then of course there is the far-right National Front, whose presidential candidate Marine Le Pen finished second in the first round of elections on April 23, and is now campaigning for the deciding runoff on May 7 against frontrunner Emmanuel Macron. On Sunday her father, founder and former party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, told viewers of his Youtube channel that the funeral service was an homage made “more to the homosexual than the police officer” and that the speech “institutionalized gay marriage and exalted it in a public way, and that shocked me.” Hardly surprising coming from a man who once called being gay a “biological anomaly,” and said that people living with HIV should be placed in “AIDs-atoriums.”
Jean-Marie Le Pen was ousted by his own daughter Marine in 2011, who has since tried to soften the party’s image in her bid for the presidency. In an interview with French newspaper Le Parisien, Marine Le Pen distanced herself from her father’s comments, saying "My father was kicked out of the National Front, he does whatever he wants, it doesn’t concern me anymore ... I don’t talk to him, and I’m not responsible for him or his inadmissible remarks.” Speaking with French news channel LCI, Le Pen said she had “found the ceremony very dignified" and was “very touched by the speech that was made by his companion.”
Such comments are no doubt part of her efforts to appeal to voters beyond the traditional National Front more hardcore conservative base, and likely represent yet another one of her attempts to court gay voters. Over the last few years, she has carefully placed gay men (and only men) into the ranks of the National Front, like vice president Florian Philippot: According to Buzzfeed, “the National Front now has more high-ranking gay figures than any major party in France.” The efforts have been met with some success, with polls finding a slight increase in support for the National Front among LGB voters.
But with less than a week before the decisive second round of the election, it is worth remembering that Le Pen is anything but LGBTQ-friendly: Her campaign platform calls for the repeal of gay marriage and would restrict fertility services for gay and lesbian couples wanting to have children. Her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, who holds one of two parliamentary seats in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, has been one of the most vocal supporters of the anti-marriage equality movement. And no matter how much Marine Le Pen tries to pinkwash the party and distance herself from its extremist past, even going so far as to recuse herself from its leadership last week, the stain of her homophobic father remains indelible.
Le Pen’s comments, like her somber presence at Jugelé’s funeral, should therefore be viewed for what they really are: Hypocrisy. She is happy, it seems, to mourn one of France’s fallen servicemen, and all too eager to use his death as a tool to stoke fears over terrorism and fan the flames of xenophobia. In an interview following the Champs-Élysées attack she said that “Islamism is a monstrous totalitarian ideology that has declared war on our nation.” But when it comes to an actual commitment to LGBTQ rights, to queer people, to the fight for equality that Jugelé was a part of, Le Pen and her party are, at best, utterly silent, and at worst, openly hostile.
Rather than support the very goals of terrorism by inciting fear and hatred, as Le Pen so often does, Jugelé’s partner used his eulogy as a call for peace. “I’m suffering without hate,” he said. “May peace prevail; let us maintain peace.” In one of the speech’s most moving moments, he echoed the words of Antoine Leiris, the husband of one of the victims in the 2015 Paris attacks, addressing his partner’s killer by saying “You will not have my hate.” As French voters head to the polls, they would do well tell Le Pen the same.