‘French-style Tea Party’ takes to streets

Catholics, Muslims and the extreme right have united to protest at social policies including teaching of ‘gender theory’

People gather in Paris last Sunday at the start of the “Manif pour tous” protest against France’s legalisation of same-sex marriage and to show their support of traditional family values. The sign protests at tax increases. Photograph: Reuters/Benoit Tessier

People gather in Paris last Sunday at the start of the “Manif pour tous” protest against France’s legalisation of same-sex marriage and to show their support of traditional family values. The sign protests at tax increases. Photograph: Reuters/Benoit Tessier

 

An eclectic assortment of extreme right-wing groups, French Catholics and Muslims has shifted the focus of opposition to President François Hollande from economic to social issues in mass demonstrations over the last two Sundays.

Last Sunday, up to several hundred thousand people marched in Paris and Lyon against what they called the government’s “familiphobia”. It was the largest demonstration since protests at the legalisation of same-sex marriage early last year.

Alleged plans by the education ministry to teach “gender theory” in public schools are the demonstrators’ main grievance. According to gender theory, sexuality is a social construct. Many parents appear to believe their children will be taught they are free to change their gender. Education minister Vincent Peillon has repeatedly denied the rumours but opponents refuse to believe him.


Same-sex marriage
A handful of politicians from the mainstream conservative UMP have allied themselves with the movement, which is also campaigning to abrogate same-sex marriage, limit the right to abortion and reverse moves by Hollande to legalise euthanasia. Demonstrators accuse the government of wanting to provide medically assisted procreation for homosexual couples, though the government has reversed that pledge.

The most extreme fringe of the opposition is led by Alain Soral, a self-described “Judéophobe” and “French-style national socialist,”whose trajectory took him from the far-left communist revolutionary league to the National Front, with which he broke in 2009. Soral campaigned with the comedian Dieudonné, a convicted anti-Semite, on his “anti-Zionist list” in 2009. The British home office announced yesterday that Dieudonné will not be allowed to enter Britain.

The wildest rumour about gender theory, propagated by Soral via text messages, is that elementary schoolchildren are being taught to masturbate at school. Soral has enlisted Farida Belghoul, leader of a march for Arab rights 30 years ago.

Like Soral, Belghoul has veered from far left to far right. Like him, she criticises the influence of Jewish groups in France. Belghoul has encouraged worried parents to withdraw their children from French public schools one day each month to protest against gender theory. Hundreds of parents did so on January 24th and 27th. The education minister asked school principals to summon the parents of absent children to “reassure” them, but also to warn that it is illegal for children to skip school.


‘Jews out of France’
Demonstrators at the “day of wrath” protests which called for Hollande’s resignation on January 26th chanted “Jews out of France”. Two hundred and fifty people were arrested in that march, which had a violent, neo-Nazi element.

Only 18 arrests were made at the more peaceful “pink and blue” march on Sunday. It was a show of force by the strongly Catholic “Manif pour tous” (“Demonstration for all”) group formed last year to oppose same-sex marriage. Families pushed prams and Muslim groups joined the procession.

Hysteria over the alleged teaching of gender theory is based in part on changes in school manuals before the socialists came to power. It was fanned last year by a left-wing teachers’ union conference on educating primary school students against homophobia.

The conference recommended some 20 sources, including the book Daddy Wears a Dress. A film called Tomboy, about a 10-year-old girl who passes for a boy, was shown to nearly 50,000 schoolchildren last year. An experimental programme called “the ABCDs of equality”, intended to destroy male and female stereotypes, was introduced in 275 schools last year.

Interior minister Manuel Valls told Le Journal du Dimanche that right-wing opponents of the government’s social policies are setting up “a French- style Tea Party”. Opposition to same-sex marriage had “unleashed a conservative, reactionary right,” he added.