Protesting With the LGBTQ Activists Criticised for Supporting France's 'Gilets Jaunes' Movement
Some have accused the Committee for Queer Liberation and Autonomy for taking part in a movement that has been supported by the far-right.
All photos: Gaëlle Mathieu
This article originally appeared on VICE France
The Committee for Queer Liberation and Autonomy (CLAQ) is a group of French LGBTQ activists using their influence to support France's ongoing gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement – a series of large-scale protests calling for wide social reforms.
On the 1st of December, CLAQ demonstrated alongside a Parisian Antifascist Action group and a local railway workers union during the yellow vest protests of that weekend. Since then, they have been joined by students from Tolbiac University – who were attacked by riot police after occupying a campus building to protest President Macron's higher education reforms – and several feminist groups in the protests of the following weekend.
"We called for a demonstration with the yellow vest movement because we believe that it is important to fight for our visibility in these spaces, assert our demands and not let the government act like they are the good guys, by claiming this protest movement is led by gangs of violent hooligans," explained Sam*, one of CLAQ's members. Similarly, for trans activist Louise*, it was important to show that the movement has broad support, and to defend it from being claimed by far-right forces looking to destabilise the government: "The movement has been criticised by the queer community, but we think, as queers, it's our duty not to leave this cause to the fascists, and not let the LGBTQ community and women be pushed aside, as is so often the case in social movements like this."
CLAQ has been accused of putting LGBTQ people in danger by supporting a cause that has been joined by elements of the extreme right. Camille* can understand the criticism. "There's always an anxious atmosphere at these sorts of gatherings," she told me. "We have seen fascist groups taking part in the protests, and witnessed homophobic, Islamophobic, racist and anti-migrant acts. But I still think it's important to join this movement because we're all fighting for the same thing. As queer women, we are the first to find ourselves in badly paid part-time jobs. We are sick and tired of not being able to live a decent life, and so our place is here at these demonstrations."
Despite the criticism from other LGBTQ groups, about 100 people turned up to the CLAQ march this past Saturday. The procession, which took off from Saint-Lazare station just before 11AM, alternated between anti-fascist slogans, messages of support for refugees and pro-LGBTQ chants.
Among the protesters was Damien*, who works for a charity that provides support to migrants. "I am a gay working-class man from the suburbs, and I have often felt that there was a big disparity between LGBTQ struggles and social struggles like this one – that I always have to choose between two identities," he said. "But CLAQ has given people like me an opportunity to feel represented."
Olga* was motivated to attend after watching the heavy-handed way police recently arrested a group of high school students, despite her initial concerns about the wider movement. "It's difficult to do nothing when you see stuff like that going on," she said. "It's up to us to act in order to obtain the result we want and to learn how to mobilise people who aren't especially political."
For the lesbian activist Gwen Fauchois, it is just as essential that the LGBTQ community takes its place in the current fight. "There is evidence of racism and sexism within this yellow vest movement, but that's true in all social groups," she told me. "We've always had to take a gamble to fight for our future, because we've never been welcomed in many spaces. It's a risk, but doing nothing is just as risky. Globally, the fascists are only getting stronger; the least we can do is try to fight back, or things will just get worse."
At about 12PM, the group were suddenly kettled and moved on along the commercial streets near Saint-Lazare. Nearby, a far-left demonstration was being kettled in the opposite direction.
Later in the afternoon, the then several-thousand strong crowd was eventually dispersed by water canon and tear gas. Demonstrators rushed to help each other by handing out nausea medication to people vomiting, and saline solution to wash the tear gas from people's eyes.
About 20 members of the CLAQ procession eventually regathered a few streets away – striking up a few anti-capitalist chants. But despite their best efforts, they struggled to hide their disappointment. Meanwhile, some were fixing their minds on what to do next.
"I'm waiting for a general strike, organised by women and the LGBTQ community," Louise told me. "As an unemployed trans woman, I think we can have a general strike in our own way, shutting down the country by every means possible."
Scroll down to see more photos from Saturday's CLAQ demonstration.
*Some names have been changed on request to protect interviewees' anonymity.