Fifty years after the Stonewall Riots, Paris pays tribute to LGBTQ+ figures

On the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, Paris officials and LGBTQ+ rights activists unveiled a series of square and street name signs honoring historical figures such as Ovida Delect, Harvey Milk, and Pierre Seel.

As Paris celebrates Pride Month, local authorities inaugurated a new series of streets and squares named after historical figures of the community and one of the milestone events of the LGBTQ+ rights movement – the “Square of the Stonewall Riots”.

The plates unveiled on June 19th now adorn the main streets of Le Marais, the French capital’s iconic “gayborhood”. They include Rue Pierre Seel, who testified openly about his experience of deportation during WWII due to his homosexuality, as well as a tribute to Gilbert Baker, who designed the original rainbow flag, displayed at the San Francisco Pride on June 25, 1978.

In the past few years, the city’s administration has been committed to adding new street signs to pay tribute to LGBTQ+ figures. Across Eastern Paris, these include the Marielle Franco Garden (Brazilian politician and activist) and the Cleews Vellay Promenade (Former President of Act Up – Paris) in the 10th, the Susan Sontag Passage (American artist and activist) in the 19th, and the Janis Joplin Garden (American singer-songwriter) in Paris’ 20th arrondissement.

Under Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who has been leading a coalition of socialist, communist and Green Party representatives since 2014 and her election as the first woman to hold the position, the city has made significant efforts to make street names more diverse and inclusive.

Only 300 of the 6,000 Parisian streets and squares are christened after women (5%) – but half of them were “created” under the current administration. According to Catherine Vieu-Charier, Deputy Mayor for Mémoire, women make up 75% of the new designations currently under consideration. On the recent T3b tramway line running along the northern edge of the city, a strict gender equality is enforced in the naming of the stations.

More often than not, new names are given to rather discrete addresses, and changing a preexisting name entirely remains the exception. Yet here is still room to further reduce the imbalance: for instance, around 500 Parisian streets are named after former land owners no one really remembers. The First and Second Empires also left hundreds of urban denominations in the XIXth century, with many having lost some relevance in 2019.

There is no need to say that countless women, as well as LGBTQ+ historical figures as influential as Harvey Milk, deserve a lot more recognition than being simply associated with unremarkable crossroads and obscure segments of sidewalks.

The making of a city is the reflection of the time periods that shaped it, and much remains to be done to bridge the urban representational gap in terms of gender and sexual orientation. With its active policy of rebranding street names and public transit stations, Paris appears to be moving in the right direction.

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