France: Concern as senate approves protections for ‘sexual’ not ‘gender’ identity
Hopes that the election of a Socialist President and Assembly might usher in a new era of inclusivity in France took a blow last week, as Socialist Senators faced up to a first opportunity to legislate protections for the country’s trans minority but declined to do so.
Their actions were instantly condemned by France’s National Transgender Association (ANT), who speculated that this may be just the first betrayal by newly elected President Francois Hollande, who gave assurances during his election campaign that he would seek to place trans rights on an equal footing with those of other minorities.
The issue arose as the Senate discussed changes to the French law on sexual harassment – Article 225-1 of the penal code. That provides protections on 18 different grounds, including gender, race, and disability, as well as criteria hitherto not regarded by Anglo-Saxon law, such as physical appearance or “customs”. It also includes “sexual orientation”.
Last Friday, the Senate voted to add to this list not “gender identity” – as ANT had demanded and as two Socialist Senators, Madame Michelle Meunier and Madame Maryvonne Blondin, attempted – but the much vaguer “sexual identity”.
ANT object to this terminology because it is not currently defined in law, and will be open to France’s judges – not universally known for their progressive tendencies – to interpret it.
They also point out that in April, in response to a direct question as to whether he would add “gender identity” to France’s list of legally protected characteristics, M Hollande gave a categoric and unambiguous “oui”.
At the time, he wrote: “I am going to fight unequivocally against ALL discrimination. I am in favour of looking at gender identity as a protected characteristic in laws on discrimination.” He further points out that an amendment of this sort was put forward in 2004 by members of the socialist party, but rejected by the Right.
Singling out the leader of the socialist group in parliament, M. Bruno Le Roux for sabotaging attempts to add “gender identity”, ANT speculate that the watering down of the amendment may have been done deliberately in order to achieve consensus with right-wing parliamentarians.
Rejecting this, they call, instead, on socialist senators and deputies to respect the undertaking given by their President,and to give unambiguous support to trans rights. In a statement issued this week, they write: “Failure to include gender identity in the law will prevent effective action not only against transphobia, but also against sexism.
“We call on LGBT organisations, feminist groups and on all citizens to lobby our deputies to ensure that “gender identity” is included in the law and not some undefined “sexual identity”, which will prove difficult to enforce in the courts.
“To draw a line under the current confusion, we call on the Socialist Party to insert “gender identity” as a protected characteristic within article 225-1 of the penal code today.”