Frigide Barjot: The French anti-gay marriage leader under attack

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The 'moderate' face of the French anti-gay marriage movement now finds herself under attack from former allies on the far right

Paris

Frigide Barjot’s name literally translates as “Frigid Bonkers”.

But the French humourist is not laughing. She’s scared. “No,” she corrects herself. “I’m not scared. I’m very scared. Look at this…”

From somewhere in the indescribable chaos of her apartment in central Paris, Barjot, the unconventional leader of the French movement against gay marriage, produces an envelope. Inside, there is a paper handkerchief stained with what she believes is blood.

“I’m being bombarded with threatening letters, email, telephone calls,” she says. “Before the law on homosexual marriage was passed, the threats came from the gay militants or the far left. Now they are coming from the homophobes of the far right…”

Since December, Barjot (her real name is Virginie Tellenne), a right-wing stage satirist turned political activist, has been the most visible face of protests against France’s gay marriage law. But now, extremists from the wild fringes of her own movement are threatening to attack her during a demonstration in Paris tomorrow.

She has asked for police protection, and is even seriously considering a boycott of her own demonstration. She may yet take part, but says she will walk away if threatened or insulted.

The threats against the 50-year-old Barjot are thought to come mostly from an ultra-right racist and homophobic group called Printemps Français (“French Spring”) which has gained prominence alongside the anti-gay marriage protests. The ultra-nationalist and xenophobic writer Dominique Venner, 78, who shot himself on the altar of Notre Dame Cathedral on Tuesday, was closely associated with Printemps Francais.

Barjot says she has become a hate figure for this disturbingly resurgent, violent ultra-right in France because she dismissed Venner’s action as “deranged” and “un-Catholic” and because she is “anti-gay marriage but not anti-gay”.

Yesterday, the French interior minister, Manuel Valls, said he was considering steps to ban Printemps Francais, which has also called this week for attacks on ministers, gay lobbyists and the media.

Is Barjot not simply reaping the whirlwind she has sown? Has she not, predictably, lost control of a movement that was never, at its core, as moderate, democratic or gay-friendly as she had insisted?

 “No, these are people who want to divide France and to promote hatred,” she says. “They have a narrow conception of identity and aggressive beliefs which are not the same as our own values, which are based on the importance of the family and the needs of the child and common-sense.”

 “I entered this fight because I knew that, otherwise, the protests would be dominated by people like them: the far right and the Catholic extremists. I wanted to give a voice to the thousands of ordinary people, not all of them people of the right, who believe that gay marriage, in the way that it has been imposed in France, is an attack on the family and foundations on which our society is built.”

Barjot, once known for her raunchy, satirical stage act, now describes herself as “press officer to Jesus”. For this interview she was wearing jeans and a leather jacket and, beneath that, a pink sheepskin jacket emblazoned with the logo of her movement. For Barjot, this was remarkably conservative. Her usual style of dress is that of an ageing Barbie doll.

Her unconventional look, her previous career, and her past friendships with gay men and women, have long made Barjot a figure of suspicion on the far right. Paradoxically, her flaky, witty, cheerful presence also gave the movement a kind of respectability which has seen tens of thousands of ordinary, conservative, middle class people, young and old, to flock to the mass demonstrations against gay marriage since December.

Since the “marriage for all” law was approved by parliament last month, and signed by President François Hollande two weeks ago, the savage antagonisms within the movement have been laid bare. In their threatening messages, the extremists accuse Barjot of being a government “stooge” and a “fifth-columnist” for gays.

“This man who killed himself at Notre Dame, I had never heard of him,” Barjot said. “He obviously wanted to become a martyr, to inspire other people to do violent things. How can a man who claims to represent traditional values, and Christian values, commit suicide in a cathedral?

 “I am worried about what may happen at the demonstration on Sunday… I want guarantees, for my own safety first of all. I entered this movement to rescue the family, not to lose my own skin and have my own family torn apart.”

Barjot is separated from her husband. They have two teenage children. Her apartment and campaign headquarters, not far from the Eiffel Tower, is a jumble of flags, leaflets, clothes, documents, newspaper cuttings, books, flowers, a crucifix.

Barjot has argued for five months that people can oppose gay marriage without being anti-gay. She argues that the newly enacted law should be amended by a future right-wing government to give gays an improved right to civil union, but not adoption rights. The radicals  are opposed to any form of recognised same-sex partnership.

Despite Barjot’s self-proclaimed moderation, her own pronouncements often veer towards the Christian fundamentalist and anti-democratic. She says same-sex marriage is not just a change in the law but a “change in civilisation”.

By giving sanction to the “unnatural” notion of two parents of the same sex, she says the law will undermine the foundations of the family, but also society and “human civilisation itself”. Her movement’s logo shows a mother and a father holding hands with a boy and girl. The slogan is: “All born from a man and a woman”.

Does Barjot believe, as some of her co-leaders do, that there are laws superior to the laws passed by parliament?

“Yes, I do believe that. I believe there are fundamental beliefs, and even the common sense and conscience of ordinary people, which are superior to laws passed by politicians. That is why I believe that this battle is not over. Parliaments cannot go indefinitely against nature and common sense.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own