Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community protest against discrimination and violence, at the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, Oct. 21, 2018.
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community protest against discrimination and violence, at the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, Oct. 21, 2018.

PARIS - The figures tell one story; gay activists fear another.

But nobody disputes that Paris has suffered a string of homophobic attacks in recent months, with gay men set upon in a chic inner-city neighborhood and a trans prostitute shot dead in a popular cruising spot in the French capital.

Yet police say their data show a strong drop in homophobic attacks, so the mood among activists has turned angry, fear of the what-next jostling with frustration at perceived inaction by authorities in a city with a reputation for tolerance.

Sitting in the lounge of Paris's LGBT Centre, 68-year-old activist Arnaud Rault told Reuters he felt "on edge" following the rise in anti-gay violence.

"We saw August as a signal," Rault said, referring to the murder of Vanesa Campos, a Peruvian transgender prostitute who was shot dead in Paris' Bois du Boulogne.

Earlier this month, two men were harassed and beaten by a Paris taxi driver for kissing in his cab in the "city of love."

The couple immediately pressed charges.

Police have logged a 37 percent drop in reports of LGBT+ related attacks during the first nine months of this year, with 74 incidents reported against 118 in the same period of 2017.

However, activists say the numbers do not tell the whole story as many assaults go unreported.

"[The police figures] are not representative, since not all victims of LGBT violence file an official complaint," said Joel Deumier, president of SOS Homophobie.

The organization, which runs a free hotline service so LGBT+ victims of assault can report the attacks anonymously, said it had received a 15 percent increase in calls over the past year.

Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexu
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community protest against discrimination and violence, at the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, Oct. 21, 2018.

In response, the Paris Prefecture told Reuters that its job was to "collect statistics based on reported assaults." As for providing any additional numbers, the police said "that's where the work of NGOs comes in."

According to SOS Homophobie's 2018 report on homophobia in France, one LGBT+ person is assaulted every three days.

?Take to the streets

More than 3,000 people — including members of French President Emmanuel Macron's government — gathered Sunday in Paris to denounce the violence and demand action.

"The government must take concrete measures to contain this wave of homophobia," said Deumier, who demanded the government increase its annual 500,000 euros ($570,000) budget allocated toward fighting anti-LGBT+ hate.

Addressing the crowd, Guillaume Melanie, president of Urgence Homophobie, an organization that helps LGBT+ people to seek asylum in France, recounted how he had been assaulted just days earlier in an attack that had left his nose broken.

"I didn't steal anything, I didn't insult anyone, I didn't attack anyone. I'm just homosexual," Melanie told Reuters at the demonstration.

Melanie says he was punched in the face and verbally harassed while leaving a restaurant in the Marais, an elegant Paris district with a strong gay culture.

Shortly after posting about his assault on social media, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the recent series of homophobic attacks "calls for a collective action."

The deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire, who attended Sunday's rally, said he and Hidalgo would meet a number of LGBT+ associations, police representatives and other government organizations over the coming weeks to work out next steps.

They would seek to establish a response to what he called the "resurgence of homophobic violence."

Possible extension of gay rights

The attacks come as France considers legalizing assisted reproduction for gay women — a campaign promise by the centrist president. The move would mark a significant extension of gay rights in France, where violent protests preceded the legalization of same-sex marriage and adoption by homosexual couples in 2013.

France's gender equality minister Marlene Schiappa insisted the Macron government was working to suppress the current spate of violence.

"The state is with them," she told a television reporter.

"Homophobia is not an opinion, you do not have the right in France to threat, aggress, insult or discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation."