Will the French state admit its responsibility in convicting thousands of people for homosexuality until 1982? A bill, which will be debated in the Senate on Wednesday, aims to rehabilitate these men and women and recognize the state's responsibility for the persecution.

"This is a symbolic bill to correct a mistake made by society at the time," Hussein Bourgi, a Socialist senator who initiated the bill, told AFP.

Compensating convicted persons

It proposes that France recognize its policy of discrimination against homosexuals between 1942 and 1982, based on two articles of the Penal Code, one establishing a specific age of consent for homosexual relations and the other aggravating the punishment of public indecency committed by two persons of the same sex.

These laws have had "much more serious repercussions than we can suspect today: they have crushed people, some have lost their jobs or had to leave their cities," says Hussein Bourgi. His bill also provides for the creation of an independent commission to compensate those convicted, up to 10,000 euros.

'State homophobia'

For Antoine Idier, a sociologist and historian specialising in homosexuality, this is a "salutary" bill, although "too restrictive". "It focuses on two articles, but the judges used a much broader arsenal of criminal law and all kinds of articles to punish homosexuality, even though they were not explicitly intended for this," explains the lecturer at Sciences Po Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Some have been convicted of "indecent assault" or "incitement of a minor to debauchery".

"State homophobia was chasing homosexuals everywhere," Michel Chomarat, 74, told AFP when he was arrested in May 1977 in Paris, along with eight men, during a police raid on the gay bar "Le Manhattan". "It was a private place, the entrance was filtered, but police officers came and took us away in handcuffs, accusing us of public indecency," the activist said. He regretted that this bill came "so late", as many of the people affected by the convictions had already died.

Rehabilitation carried out in Germany

In an op-ed published in June last year in the magazine Têtu, activists, trade unionists and elected officials called on France to recognize and rehabilitate the thousands of victims of anti-gay repression. For Joël Deumier, co-president of SOS Homophobie, this "recognition" of the role of the state is "essential": "if homophobia still exists in today's society, it is also because laws, regulations and state practices have legitimized this discrimination in the past," he believes.

Other European countries have already addressed the issue. Germany decided in 2017 to rehabilitate and compensate some 50,000 men convicted of homosexuality on the basis of a Nazi law that remained in force long after World War II. Austria is in the process of setting up a similar scheme, which is expected to enter into force in February 2024.

However, few people take the steps to be compensated, points out Régis Schlagdenhauffen, a lecturer at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS). In addition to the fact that administrative files are "complicated" to put together, it is a painful subject, which the people concerned often prefer not to return: "it was an infamous sentence, violent to live with," says the specialist.

At least 10,000 convictions in France

It is difficult to give an estimate for France, especially since the number of convicts remains uncertain. According to his work, at least 10,000 convictions took place in France between 1942 and 1982, based on the article of the Penal Code that established a specific age of consent for same-sex relations. They were mainly men, from the working class. A third of them were married, a quarter had children.

Régis Schlagdenhauffen continues his research with his students from the EHESS by dissecting the archives of the Parisian justice system. The aim is to find other people convicted of homosexuality, on the basis of other articles. They spot them "every week."

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