The 1980 bombing of the Copernic Synagogue

Staying Alive

In Qatar, Colorado Springs or across the river

When I came out to the first person in my family, my grandmother– finally safe 4,000 miles away from my home — she told me “not to get AIDS”. It was a pretty usual reaction in 2001. She did not instruct me to be happy now that I was free, she instructed me to stay alive.

I told her I would be careful and I have been. It was not hard for me. Because I have always looked at the world as a dangerous place. Shared animosity against Jews, Gays and Arabs was the glue of social cohesion where I grew up. I lived with my parents rue Copernic down the street from the Synagogue which exploded in 1980.

A decade later when I told to my mother how hurt I was by my family members posting pictures of themselves at “La Manif Pour Tous”, the street protest against same-sex marriage and adoption, she suggested “[I] develop a thick skin because it’s going to be like that all [my] life”.

Even today and here, there is a fatalistic consensus that being gay or trans means being headed for a life of trouble.

And an unconscious belief that we have nobody else but ourselves to blame for it: did we really have to be that stubborn about violating norms?

In 1980, after the rue Copernic bombing, Prime Minister Raymond Barre declared himself “full of indignation” in front of “a heinous attack which wanted to strike Jews on their way to the synagogue and struck innocent French people who were crossing the street.” A very telling lapsus about the responsibility for the attack…

When someone asks me how I would react if one of my sons was trans, I often say I would really prefer them not to. It’s a hard life, I think.

I have written too many times about the Gay people who died around me.

My friend Lee quotes me in her book on the cost of homophobia as “seeing another side of gay life on Facebook. [I] received news of friends lost to liver disease, suicides, addiction, or accident.”

But of course death is only the tip of the iceberg. Because for every premature death, there is so much more widespread and invisible suffering. A longer agony.

“What is done to us is not insignificant”, I like to remind LGBTQ+ people wherever I speak. “It’s child abuse” I tell them. That there are still children going to bed at night having lied about who they are to their parents, teachers and priests praying for their lives to end is unfathomable. It’s a shame that I have to say that to gay people. They often look uncomfortable. I tell them that what is done to us in childhood is also not reparable. Not everything that is broken, can be repaired. They feel I am dramatic.

How different our lives would be, if children were told that it is fine to be attracted to people of the same sex or to identify with a different gender. That gay and trans people are worthy. That we are lovable. The very thing Ron DeSantis just made illegal in Florida. It would not take much effort.

The reality is that most LGBTQ+ people minimize what is done to them. Particularly, the ones who thrive in this antagonistic environment because they often develop a level of complicity. We also hate to be perceived as victims. We want to appear resilient. I often think of Andrew Sullivan — “a real public intellectual” as Keith Wetmore recently wrote to me — as having written nothing but “get over it!” for the past decade. And so we make it easier by our silence.

Yesterday, before the shooting, I posted about Qatar 2022. This time because President Macron encouraged us not to “politicize the World Cup” while announcing he would travel there if France got into the finals. I wrote a lot about the World Cup in the past few weeks because it is another reminder that people really don’t get it. I was best illustrated when British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Wednesday that LGBTQ+ soccer fans should “be respectful” and show “flex and compromise”.

Flex and compromise? Haven’t we forgiven enough? Haven’t we bent backward to have straight people tolerate us? Haven’t we appealed enough to our common humanity?

I remember when the Orlando shooting happened that I modified a trip I was on to stop by New York and hug my children. I am not sure if it was because straight people were killing our children in a night club the previous night, because they were turning their back on millions of LGBTQ+ children that night or because so many were still “opposed” to us having children.

The shooting in Colorado Springs is not the culmination of the latest series of verbal campaigns waged against LGBTQ+ people in the United States, as GLAAD mechanically denounced today, it is the continuation of a World engagement in a criminal enterprise against LGBTQ+ people. Every time we minimize it, we step away further from a solution. There will not be true reconciliation until there is an acknowledgement of the gravity of what was and is being done to LGBTQ+ people everywhere. The onus is not on us to make it better.

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Fabrice Houdart

Fabrice is on the Board of Outright Action International. Previously he was an officer at the UN Human Rights Office and World Bank