Wednesday, July 24, 2024

New LGBTQIA+ center opens in Marseille

Jameson Farn reports on a vital new addition to France’s LGBTQIA+ community.

Finally, the day has arrived.

After a few years of hard work, with extensive group meetings, appointments with funders, and the various associations and other local community members, the Marseille LGBTQIA+ Center had its opening ceremony over the weekend.

Everyone in attendance was riveted with anticipation outside the new LGBTQIA+ Center before making their way inside as the first speech was read at the podium.

“This is an important day in Marseille”, says Noémie Pillas, an association activist. After months of dedicated efforts, she and the teams Noémie coordinates were able to inaugurate Marseille’s first and only LGBTQIA+ center on Saturday, December 9, right in the city center, between the Panier and the Old Port.

In keeping with official protocol, Bérangère Couillard, the French Minister for Equality between Women and Men and the Fight against Discrimination, who had come for the occasion, cut the tricolor ribbon alongside local politicians. “In France’s second-largest city, it’s about time”, the Minister emphasized.

The opening of this center was one of the promises made by Printemps Marseillais during the 2020 municipal elections. “I don’t think we realize yet how important this moment is. We needed this place so badly,” testifies Théo Challande-Névoret, deputy (écologiste) in charge of the fight against discrimination. 

In France, there are some forty centers of this type that have existed for several years. For lack of “funding” and “political commitment”, the fight to open such a center has long been silent in Marseilles, “but not in vain”, explains Stéphane Bernard, president of Fierté Marseille, the association that runs the center. “For decades, here perhaps longer than elsewhere, LGBT+ people have known fear, lived in secrecy, threatened by shame and rejection. Marseille is a world-class city that has made its LGBT+ population invisible,” fervently supports Noémie Pillas. Thanks to the courageous battles of our elders, our struggles have come out of the closet.”

So, to make up for this shortfall, activists and associations have been working since 2017 to secure grants and support. “The presence of the Minister and the authorities is a historic sign of commitment,” states Stéphane Bernard. He adds, “We hope this support will continue for a while, but we will also need money. We need the political will to advance our rights”.

The opening and construction of the center’s premises, leased on a commercial basis by Fierté Marseille, were financed by the City, the Region, the Department, and the State. “Bérangère Couillard points out: “We are in a position to join forces in the fight against discrimination. “The State is united against LGBTphobia”, she insists.

A member of the Association des parents gays et lesbiens (AGPL) observes the walls filled with snapshots of LGBT+ personalities: “We finally have a place to meet, where we don’t have to worry about how we’re going to be received.” Association meetings are already planned for the days and weeks ahead. “We want our daughter to be able to meet people like her and share her experiences,” adds her partner.

Set up at 17, 19, and 21 rue du Chevalier Roze (2e), the expansive, brand-new center, where colorful signs were put up the day before the inauguration – offers three distinct areas: a bar, a health center, and an inter-associative space.

Open six days a week, the premises also include a shower and luggage storage area for homeless people. “These spaces are more necessary than ever for us to get together, organize ourselves, and take care of ourselves,” explains Noémie Pillas.

A mission that began this past Saturday evening with great fanfare, as over 400 people gathered to celebrate the opening. “Pour que vive le center LGBTQIA +” (“So that the LGBTQIA + center lives on”), was heard loud with dignity and pride.

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