This Europe: Mayor of Paris finds his homosexuality is suddenly an issue

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The Independent Online

The decision by Paris's gay Mayor to lead the city's annual Gay Pride parade later this month has provoked a political row - the first involving Bertrand Delanoe's sexuality since he was elected two years ago.

Françoise de Panafieu, the right-wing Mayor of one of the city's 20 districts, or arrondissements, has accused the Socialist Mayor of using his office to "seek converts" to homosexuality.

"When you are an elected official, you have certain responsibilities, and it is not really appropriate for the Mayor of Paris to lead the Gay Pride parade," Mme de Panafieu, Mayor and deputy for the 17th arrondissement, said.

She went on to accuse M. Delanoe - the only openly gay politician to hold prominent office in France - of showing an "impetuous zeal" to support the gay movement. Mme de Panafieu said she had no problem with the fact that M. Delanoe was gay, but she "drew the line" at "prosélytisme" - trying to gather converts.

Her remarks drew a barrage of protest from the Town Hall and from M. Delanoe's political allies. The Mayor's spokesman, Laurent Fary, accused Mme de Panafieu, 54, of "raising arguments from ancient times". And Alain Riou, president of the Greens on the Paris council, accused her of "homophobia". He said it was entirely appropriate for the Mayor of Paris to be seen to support one of the city's prominent cultural events, such as the Gay Pride parade, which takes place on 28 June.

M. Delanoe, 53, also went to the French Open tennis championships at the Stade Roland Garros and to football matches at the Parc des Princes, M. Riou said. No one accused him of "prosélystisme" on those occasions.

M. Delanoe's sexuality has not been a political issue until now, although a failed assassination attempt last year appears partly to have been motivated by homophobia.

Right-of-centre politicians in France are notoriously homophobic, although most try to disguise the fact in public.

Mme de Panafieu, who belongs to President Jacques Chirac's centre-right party, the UMP, caused consternation last year when she suggested that authorised brothels, banned in 1946, should be reopened to clear prostitutes from the streets.