When people think about France they associate the country with less conservative values and greater acceptance of others. However, it did not use to be this way and there is still a long way to go until homophobia is no longer a reality. Although retaliation against the LGBTQ community has ameliorated over the years, these individuals still have to endure hostilities from fellow Parisians and close-minded tourists. Fortunately, retaliation from the government in the form of restrictive laws has ended for the most part. To this day, laws condemning homosexual practices have been abolished, legal discrimination against LGBTQ community members has been eliminated, and Paris had a gay mayor from 2001 to 2014. However, this was not always the reality. Before 1982 discrimination against homosexuality was considered legal and assaults against the community were very common (Jackson, 89). It was far worse during the Middle Ages when homosexuality and homosexual practices were considered illegal and immoral.
During the Middle Ages, homosexuality was considered a sin and harsh laws were put in place to punish those that engaged in homosexual activities. Punishments would range from castration to execution (“Same-Sex Relations in the Middle Ages”). Medieval Paris was known for enforcing harsh laws regarding homosexuality and its practices. Poor and working-class Parisians were among those commonly targeted and harshly convicted (Farmer). Part of the issue during these times was the type of regime that was in power. The Old Regime was well known for trying to centralize the power in the hands of the monarchy, but frequently failing to do so. Additionally, the regime was characterized for being ruthless and favoring the clergy and the nobility, which may explain why there were fewer arrests and punishments involving the aristocracy in homosexual related offenses (“Ancien régime”).
In 1750 a gay couple was tortured and burned to death as punishment for engaging in sodomy. Jean Diot and Bruno Lenoir are the last two French men to have been executed for engaging in homosexual practices. Their story begins on January 4, 1750, when 40-year-old charcutier, Jean Diot is caught with his 20-year-old lover, Bruno Lenoir, a common shoemaker. According to the official statement, Julien Dauguisy, an officer that was patrolling the streets noticed the men in the intersection between Rue Bachaumont and Rue Montorgueil. He described them as engaging “in a posture that was indecent and reprehensible”, which is why he arrested them (Brossat). In his initial statement on January 9, Bruno Lenoir said he was approached by Jean Diot and offered to engage in intercourse. However, Jean Diot admitted to being drunk at the time of the incident and denied that he ever offered intercourse to the young man; instead, he states that we saw a young man asleep on the street and wished to help him.
The months that followed were extremely painful for those involved. The trial took a total of six months and they were finally found guilty on April 11, 1750. According to the official statements and the recordings in the Parliament of Paris, the two men were sentenced to the “confiscation of their goods and if they failed to do so they would have to pay a fine of 200 pounds each.” Furthermore, they were to be “burned alive and their ashes were thrown into the wind.” As described in the official statements, there is a reddendum clause that stated that the men would be strangled and then burned alive (Brossat). According to an article published in Journal Historique et Anecdotique, the men were executed July 6, 1750, in Place de Greve, which is now Hotel de Ville, and it is remembered as the site where the old regime conducted numerous public executions. The article even describes how the execution was necessary to set an example before these types of crimes became more common (Barbier).
This crime was kept silent for more than 250 years and finally, in 2014 the Paris Council decided to affix a plaque in the memory of Jean Diot and Bruno Lenoir in the same place of their arrest. To this day, this plaque serves as a reminder of the struggle faced by the LGBTQ community and the hardships they have endured. This plaque is not only to commemorate the lives of Jean Diot and Bruno Lenoir but also the lives lost to hatred and retaliation against LGBTQ individuals. The purpose of this plaque is to remind the Parisian community of their progress towards greater inclusion, but also to remind them of the consequences of hatred and homophobia. Although the plaque was not placed within Le Marais, the LGBTQ neighborhood in the city, it is of great significance to the LGBTQ community and it has had a great impact on LGBTQ relations.