The June 2012 edition of Têtu was the second time the French LGTB (lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual) monthly magazine and the straight professional football player Olivier Giroud crossed their paths. And it was huge. The footballer was having a flawless end of season; he had led his team, Montpellier Hérault Sport Club, to win the trophy for the first time in the club’s 83-year history, conquered the top-scorer award with 21 goals and got a transfer to London-based Arsenal for 12 million euros.
Remarkable as this might be, it didn’t make Giroud unique. Other players have led underdogs to win the Ligue 1, at least once a year someone gets the award for more goals scored and there have definitely been more lucrative negotiations for players crossing the English Channel. What made his June groundbreaking was his appearance -a first time ever for a French heterosexual football player- on the cover of Têtu.
LGBT magazines are possibly as old as the sexual diversity movement in Europe, with publications dating as far back as the mid 20th century. Few, however, have survived along with the struggle for rights over the past decades, and the actual selection of lesbian, gay, bi and trans media usually wasn’t created earlier than the 1980s. Still, there is a widespread market of LGBT ranging from conservative Poland to liberal France. However, few have achieved luring a straight celebrity on to their cover, as Têtu did.
It was the magazine’s own readership that made it happen the first time the player appeared in it. On a general survey conducted earlier that year, in January, the editors asked who was the most attractive football player in the French Ligue 1. Giroud came out as the people’s favorite, over fellow footballers Lisandro López and Jean Calvé. But being considered sexy by gay readers and appearing shirtless on a LGBT magazine cover without being homosexual seems miles apart- or not.
Têtu approached the player and he agreed happily, adding along an interview on his positions regarding homosexuality. On the cover he featured proudly next to one of his quotes – “I have no taboos”- and in the article Giroud stated that he “would be delighted if his gesture could help change the mentality of some involved in the game.”
These magazines share a common enemy -discrimination and hate-, and fight under the same flag of equal rights for everyone.
The magazine had done it again, breaking the usual rules on who should and who shouldn’t appear on the cover of a LGBT magazine. It has been a hard work from its actual director, Gilles Wullus, who joined the staff in 2008, and who started a quest to give Têtu a better image and make it more chic. Presently the magazine has a better chance of having a celebrity on its cover than any other same-sized mainstream publications-in other words, straight media.
THE QUEER SIDE OF MEDIA
Launched in 1995, the magazine was co-founded by Didider Lestrade and Pascal Loubet and directed by Pierre Bergé in its early years, when it was still following the demise of Le Gai Pied magazine, which was published between 1979 and 1992. Têtu is only one of the dozens of European publications that appear monthly in shelves throughout the continent.
Wullus describes the magazine as a media -since it involves both the printed magazine and the website, which hardly share content between each other. The printed issue targets the French-speaking LGBT community mostly in Europe, the website goes for the global audience, receiving 50% of the visits from abroad, out of France.
In the meantime while a Paris bureau was devising Têtu, an innovative Pole was crafting his own sketches of how information and personal contact should look like in a country trying to get past the communist era. Radoslaw Oliwa finally uncovered his creation and Innastrona.pl was born, the predecessor of current Queer.pl, one of the leading LGBT news sites in Poland.
Founded by Oliwa in 1996 as Innastrona.pl, the magazine is defined as a social networking -one of the few that have survived to Facebook- and news website that creates a positive identity of LGBT people, informs about events connected with the community, and allows communication between members of the LGBT world.
What can possibly differentiate one gay magazine from another? Is there really a dramatically different struggle between one of the most secular countries in Europe, where liberal rights have been a family tradition for centuries, and the country with one of the highest Catholic percentages of the continent?
The answer seems to be no. They share a common enemy -discrimination and hate-, and fight under the same flag of equal rights for everyone.
THE EDITORIAL FIGHT
Editors of both Queer.pl and Têtu have a particularly hard question to tackle: How do you fight an institution (such as the Church or political parties) that bluntly and unapologetically opposes you, discriminates against you, and considers you a second class citizen without offending those of your readers that, in one way or another, are their followers?
It would seem natural that a gay-oriented magazine holds a stout position against those who oppose the rights of the LGBT community, but it’s not so easy for their editorial team. The magazines don’t want to take a strong position against particular groups, since they have minority readers who can feel targeted. For instance, if the editorial message charged on Catholics it can affect that part of the community that follows this religion, especially in conservative Poland.
The solution Têtu and Queer.pl have found is relating the information on what is happening and standing against homophobia and discriminatory discourse in general rather than focusing on criticizing a particular group.
Têtu took a strong stance against far-right populist politician Marine Le Pen
“The editoral line of the magazine is aimed at the whole community, regardless of age, social position, etc…, since the market remains small. It can have only limited stands, notably when it comes to political matters; there is a minority of the audience which is right-wing, and other sensible populations,” explained Têtu director, Gilles Wullus.
The official policy of Têtu is simple: we can report on the opposition, since it’s an issue that affects the LGBT community as a whole, but the magazine will not lend space for it. He adds that the editorial line revolved around issues such as sexuality and discrimination, but also entertainment, and that the magazine doesn’t target any special groups – religious or not—that desire to ban gay marriage or child adoption. Furthermore, other kinds of media already give the public this kind of information.
FIGHT THE POWER
But when the arena is politics, Têtu’s policy seems to soften a little. While remaining oddly neutral in left-right debates, because even if most of their readership is left leaning they still must respect those who favor the right, the magazine took a strong stance against far-right populist politician Marine Le Pen, from the party Front National.
Enraged with the absurd stance, the staff of Queer was part of a strong campaign that successfully removed Radziszewska from her position three years ago.
During the past elections, Têtu led a strong opposition to Le Pen’s attempt to trick and deceive a part of the LGBT community into voting for her, by making fake promises that, in the opinion of the editorial staff, were not even believable considering her past positions. As a matter of fact, she has since showed no support for the community, particularly on the light of the recent rise of homophobic actions.
Queer.pl has also had some clashes with political and governmental figures in the past. For instance, the last government plenipotentiary for equal treatment in Poland, Elżbieta Radziszewska, was critical of their outspoken news coverage on the Polish affairs and engaged in several threats along with her legal team, demanding corrections on the magazine’s publications.
Enraged with the absurd stance – after all she’s the politician responsible to fight for equality – the staff of Queer was part of a strong campaign that successfully removed Radziszewska from her position three years ago.
This harassment by politicians is not unusual. Another gay magazine in France, the free bimonthly Illico, has also had encounters with right-wing politicians. On 20 April, 2007, Illico editors received a letter from the Minister of the Interior threatening to ban the magazine after it had openly opposed the government’s candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, in that year’s election. After his victory, and as French president, Sarkozy was not particularly fond of the LGBT community.
With his strong hostility toward the recognition of equality and rights for the LGBT community, Pope John Paul II was simply a natural outcome of a nation with profound links with Catholicism. As one of the most conservative and religious nations in Europe, it’s no surprise that sexual diversity is a big taboo in Poland.
However, there is in this country a very unique approach to homosexuality and sexual diversity. While still banning any kind of official same-sex union, including civil union with legal effects, it is one of the very few countries in the world that allows homosexuals to donate blood.
In this atmosphere of political and social ambiguity, the staff of Queer.pl has had to manage to keep up with the ever-changing environment, leading a strong opposition of derogatory or discriminatory acts, and upholding legal and social battles.
The magazine has also felt changes since the incorporation of Poland to the European Union in 2004. According to founder Oliwa, Brussels suited well to the Polish European members of Parliament and, when they came back home, their language and approach to LGBT subjects had changed.
But then again, having a seemingly more liberal society doesn’t do the trick either. Even though the French State is officially secular and the last time a homosexual was burned to death seems as a medieval dark memory – Jean Diot and Bruno Lenoir, 6 of July 1750-, France is not a paradise for the LGBT community.
Poland still bans any kind of official same-sex union, but is at the same time one of the very few countries in the world that allows homossexuals to donate blood.
Just last March, a massive demonstration against gay-marriage in which hundreds of thousands of people descended on Champs Elyseé had to be fought back by Paris’ riot police, as the violence of demonstrators escalated. Waves and waves of conservative activists, priests, retirees and children, many of them bussed from the countryside, converged in the capital in a last attempt to block the “marriage for everyone” bill.
The current French law has opened many doors for the LGBT community, such as strong anti-discrimination laws, the possibility to serve in the army, the recognition of same-sex unions and the right to change legal gender, but same-sex marriages and adoptions are still not available, which is precisely what the new bill is seeking.
A PEEK INTO THE FUTURE
After Francois Hollande’s victory in the past elections, there has been a positive change in the government’s approach to gay issues, after passing and support the “marriage for everyone” bill.
“By doing so, the government is signaling its support to the community, and signaling its position against homophobia. Therefore, the government is saying they consider gay people equal. This debate has put into light the LGBT community, which drove to an increase in homophobic demonstrations,” concluded Gilles.
Earlier this year, the magazine was sold to the entrepreneur Jean-Jacques Augier, according to Le Monde and other French media. Augier, who worked as the campaign treasurer for President Hollande, reportedly announced to cut part of its staff as part of the efforts to reduce the deficit in the magazine.
Is this a positive sign, having someone close to the President economically endorsing one of the largest LGBT magazines in the country? Or is it an undercover attempt to boycott Têtu’s efforts over the past couple of decades?
Waves of conservative activists, priests, retirees and children converged in the capital in a last attempt to block the “marriage for everyone” bill.
Queer.pl actively works with several political parties with similar ideas and have very close contact with two members of their parliament, both of whom belong to Poland’s LGBT community.
“Specially we’re in touch with Anna Grodzka, the only transsexual MP (member of parliament) in the world and Robert Biedroń, the first openly gay MP in Poland. Of course, we try to be objective and to be in touch with the ruling party – Platforma Obywatelska – as well, but we cannot count on them when it comes to cooperation,” explains Oliwa.
But the odds might be softening a bit for them. Three years ago, Elżbieta Radziszewska was replaced by Agnieszka Kozłowska-Rajewicz, who has shown more willingness to cooperate with them. It doesn’t seem crazy now that Catholic Poland might hold out a hand to the LGBT community. Distant, maybe, but not impossible anymore.