An assault on a transgender woman in Paris is garnering worldwide attention, and observers are saying it demonstrates that transphobia is still widespread in France, even as police and prosecutors are being praised for their quick response to the incident.
The 31-year-old woman, identified only by her first name, Julia, was verbally harassed, then physically attacked by men during a protest Sunday, The New York Times reports. The attack came during a demonstration by expatriates from Algeria against that nation’s president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned a few days later.
Julia was trying to walk through the crowd in the Place de la République to a subway station. Three men blocked her, she told the Times.
“One of them looked at me and said, ‘You’re a man,’” she said. “He did not want to allow me to pass.” Then one man punched her several times while another tried to kick her. Security officers from the subway system intervened and ended the attack.
Julia said she had often encountered men who made inappropriate comments to her, but this was the first time she was physically assaulted. She added, “The abusers are simply ignorant people, who do not understand our situation.”
Activist Lyes Alouane, from a group called Stop Homophobia, received video of the assault from a witness and posted it on Twitter. As of Thursday, the video had been viewed more than 2 million times on that and other social media platforms.
Agression verbale et physique #transphobe place de la République à Paris. Effet de meute insupportable contre cette personne. Nous adressons tout notre soutien à la victime. Les auteurs de ces actes doivent être sanctionnés. Cc: @Lyes_Alouane pic.twitter.com/Kz1aCPvcuk
— SOS homophobie (@SOShomophobie) April 2, 2019
Marlène Schiappa, France’s minister for gender equality, retweeted the video. She said the attack was “clearly transphobic” and “unacceptable,” and she called for the assailants to be identified and prosecuted.
The Paris prosecutor’s office is investigating the incident, calling it “violence committed on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity,” the Times reports. However, so far there has just been one suspect detained, and he was released.
Still, Alouane praised the authorities for reacting quickly to the assault, and he expressed surprise at how much attention the matter has received.
French sociologist Arnaud Alessandrin said the response shows French attitudes toward trans people are changing. “We have gone from a status of silence on transphobia to a status of outrage and finally to a status of action,” he told the Times.
But trans people still face prejudice in France, others said. “Transphobia is still part of our daily life; it is rooted in the institutions which pathologize transgender people,” transgender activist Giovanna Rincon, who heads the group Acceptess-Transgenres, told the paper.
Julia said she originally just wanted to move on after the attack, but the response to it made her decide to help keep it in the public eye. “So as long as I can make it visible, I will do so,” she said.