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French Minister Accused of Homophobia by Hélène de Lauzun

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French Minister Accused of Homophobia

The former Les Républicains senator Caroline Cayeux, who is now minister for territorial cohesion in Elisabeth Borne’s government, has become prey to a violent cabal in the French press and from part of the political class following remarks deemed homophobic.

It all started with an interview given on Tuesday, July 12th, to the parliamentary channel Public Sénat, which brought back some of her statements made in 2013, during the debates on the introduction of gay marriage. At the time, Caroline Cayeux had ascertained the topic as a “whim” and a “design that goes against nature.” The minister assumed that she had said these words: “I obviously stand by what I said. But I have always said that if the law was passed, I would apply it,” she said on television. Before adding: “I must tell you that I have many friends among those people. Frankly, it’s a bad trial I have been given, and it upsets me a lot.”

The expression “those people,” taken as a reiteration of her 2013 remarks, has provoked a torrent of indignant declarations, going so far as to call for the resignation of the freshly appointed minister of the new government of Elisabeth Borne. Faced with the force of the reactions, the minister was obliged to apologize in the columns of Le Parisien on Thursday, July 14th, recalling that the remarks, which she now considers “stupid and clumsy,” “date back ten years.” “And if I can’t deny having made them, obviously I won’t use them again and I regret them,” she added, offering her “most sincere apologies.” 

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne considered the matter closed, saying the day after Caroline Cayeux’s apology that “things were now clear.” But the minister’s about-face, which contrasts with her initial apparent firmness, since she had declared “to maintain her words” a few days earlier, does not seem sufficient for her accusers.

Soon afterwards, an open letter appeared in Le Journal du Dimanche on July 17th to once again solemnly condemn Caroline Cayeux’s alleged homophobia, snarkily labelled “To all those people.” Many political figures, from the majority to the opposition, are among the signatories, such as former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, and the mayors of Parisian districts such as the Socialist Ariel Weil and the Republican Jean-Pierre Lecoq. There are also personalities such as the neuropsychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik and the TV host Alex Goude—himself now infamous, having had recourse—illegally—to a GPA (surrogate mother) in 2016, which was widely publicised in the tabloids. 

The aspersions are not likely to end there, as six anti-homophobia associations have announced that they have filed a complaint against Caroline Cayeux, who for the moment remains in office. Other government ministers, such as Clément Beaune, himself gay, have distanced themselves from her

Such news once again exposes the pressure that societal issues put on the shoulders of politicians, most often in defiance of freedom of expression, as the slightest phrase deemed offensive by lobbies and associations can now lead to court.

Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).