Paris Pride Guide: Five LGBT Attractions
Countless LGBT Americans will be among the hundreds of thousands of gay men, women and youth descending on the City of Light for Paris’s annual La Marche des Fiertes (Gay Pride parade and festival) on June 28-30. Some estimates even put the annual crowd at 1 million-plus revelers, making the gathering the largest pride event in Europe and one of the biggest in the world.
The parade itself, which begins at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 29, is so massive that it takes nearly four hours to wind its way from its starting point in the Left Bank to the Place de la Bastille, where a huge DJ-fueled dance party is held from 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. But truth be told, the entire Marais neighborhood — home to most of the city’s LGBT bars, restaurants, and boutiques — hosts a nonstop celebration throughout the weekend.
But what do you do when the pride frenzy ends and you’re still eager to learn more about LGBT life in the City of Light?
Start by checking out these five tourist sites that have deep LGBT connections — connections ignored by virtually every mainstream Paris travel guide. All are free, easily accessible by the city’s uber-efficient Metro system, and sure to surprise you with the prominent roles gay men and lesbians have played — and continue to play — in Paris’s rich history.
PLACE DES VOSGES
Nearly every visitor to the Marais treks to the elegant Place de Vosges, a 400-year-old square — acclaimed as the most beautiful in France — that was once home to Gallic royalty, as well as such notable Parisians as Cardinal Richelieu, Moliere, Victor Hugo, and Madame Sevigny.
And as tourists ooh and aah over the square’s gorgeous fountains, meticulously maintained gardens and ornate architecture, they’re likely to walk right by a monument to one of France’s most famous gay men — King Louis XIII. Yes, that stately statue of His Majesty astride his horse at the heart of the Place des Vosges honors a king widely known to favor the company of other gentlemen.
Although he did marry and eventually produced a male heir (although he didn’t have sex with his wife until four years after their marriage), Louis XIII engaged in romantic affairs with several aristocratic men, including royal advisors Charles d’Albert de Luynes — who was 23 years older than the king — and Henri d’Effiat de Cinq-Mars. (Sadly, Louis was forced to order the execution of lover Cinq-Mars when the advisor was found to be conspiring with the Spanish military.)
Louis XIII’s reign, from 1610 to 1643, is marked by two major historical achievements: The founding of the Academie Francaise, France’s official body on matters pertaining to the French language, and the appointment of ruthless Prime Minister Cardinal Richelieu, who helped France unseat Spain as the dominant European power in the 1600s.
PERE LACHAISE CEMETERY
Most pilgrims to this huge cemetery near Paris’s outskirts make the trip to view the tomb of The Doors’ front man Jim Morrison, who died in Paris of an alleged heroin overdose in July 1971. But many of France’s glitterati of the past two centuries, including several gay and lesbian pioneers and icons, also are interred in this sprawling graveyard. Here are 10 notable LGBT men and women — in some cases relatively unknown, but nevertheless leaders and innovators in their own right — who are buried in Pere Lachaise.
SARAH BERNHARDT (1844-1923)
Known as “The Divine Sarah,” Sarah Bernhardt was an actress who became infamous for her scandalous, flamboyant personal life. Onstage, Bernhardt often took on male roles, sometimes shocking audiences with her masculine performances. Offstage, she often dressed in male clothing and engaged in a series of well-publicized love affairs with both men and women, including a lengthy relationship with impressionist painter Louise Abbema.
ROSA BONHEUR (1822-1899)
Artist Marie-Rosalie (Rosa) Bonheur is widely considered the most famous female painter of the 19th century (her pieces include The Horse Fair, exhibited in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art), but her work is often overshadowed by her overt lesbianism. Bonheur maintained a decades-long relationship with Nathalie Micas, and spend the final year of her life with American painter and author Anna Klumpke.
JEAN JACQUE REGIS DE CAMBACERES (1753-1824)
A longtime compatriot of Napoleon Bonaparte, Cambaceres was charged with crafting the Napoleonic Code, France’s first modern set of laws that still serves as the foundation of civil law throughout much of the world. Cambaceres, who never hid his homosexuality, was often fondly referred to as “her” by Napoleon. His nightly gatherings with young men in the gardens of Paris’s Palais-Royal were so notorious that members of Napoleon’s cabinet often encouraged Cambaceres to be more discreet.
Best known for her novel Gigi (upon which the stage and film musicals were based), renowned writer and actress Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette has been romantically linked with at least three women, including Americans Natalie Barney and Josephine Baker. A passionate on-stage kiss between Colette and then-lover Mathilde de Morny, the Marquise de Belbeuf, during a skit at the Moulin Rouge in 1907 caused a near riot and was reported by newspapers around the world.
THEODORE GERICAULT (1791-1824)
Painter Theodore Gericault is considered one of the pioneers of the Romantic Movement and is best known for his work The Raft of the Medusa, currently exhibited in the Louvre. Though scholars disagree as to the extent of his involvement with men, Gericault reportedly had sexual relations with at least one of his students and possibly with fellow painters Dedreux-Dorcy and Eugene Delacroix. He also rarely painted images of women, instead focusing on muscular, heroic male figures.
MARCEL PROUST (1871-1922)
Valentin Louis Georges Eugene Marcel Proust, the author of the seven-volume In Search of Lost Time (also translated as Remembrance of Things Past), led a closeted existence for most of his life. After his beloved mother’s death, Proust became more openly involved with other men, including composer Ronaldo Hahn and Lucien Daudet, the son of French novelist Alphonse Daudet. In 1917 he reportedly also helped a friend launch a male bordello, Paris’s notorious Hotel Marigny.
RAYMOND RADIGUET (1903-1923)
Novelist Raymond Radiguet, best known for his scandalous and critically acclaimed first work of fiction, The Devil in the Flesh, became the lover and protege of novelist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau while just a teenager. Radiguet contracted typhoid fever while traveling with Cocteau and died of the disease at age 20, just months after the release of his first novel. His second work, Le Bal du Comte d’Orgel, was published posthumously in 1924.
GERTRUDE STEIN (1874-1946) and ALICE B. TOKLAS (1877-1967)
American writer Gertrude Stein is celebrated for her nearly 30 novels and essays (including one of the earliest coming-out stories, Q.E.D., written in 1903), but is perhaps best known for her leading role in Paris’s salon society during the early to mid-20th century. Among those attending Stein’s legendary gatherings were artists Matisse and Picasso and fellow writers Thornton Wilder, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. In 1907 Stein met Alice B. Toklas, with whom she lived from 1910 until her death in 1946. Toklas, also a writer, generally existed in Stein’s literary shadow, essentially serving as Stein’s maid, cook, secretary and muse throughout their partnership. Stein’s 1933 memoirs were evocatively named after her lover, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which became her best-selling book. Stein and Toklas are buried together—Toklas’s name is engraved on the back of their tombstone.
OSCAR WILDE (1854-1900)
One of England’s most popular playwrights in the late 1800s, Oscar Wilde is as well known for the tragic circumstances of his imprisonment stemming from his homosexuality as he is for his impressive volume of work. An ill-advised libel lawsuit against the father of his lover resulted in Wilde’s arrest, trial and imprisonment for gross indecency. After released from prison, Wilde lived in impoverished exile in Paris until his death in 1900. Wilde is credited with coining the phrase “the love that dare not speak its name” while testifying during his trial.
Few tourists venture beyond the gardens behind famed Notre Dame Cathedral on Paris’s central island, the Ile de la Cite. But just a few steps farther toward the eastern tip of the island reveals France’s fascinating Memorial de la Deportation, a tribute to the more than 200,000 French men, women and children—including homosexuals—killed in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
The free memorial is located on the actual site where many Parisian “prisoners” were processed and then loaded onto ships for transportation to extermination camps in Eastern Europe during the early 1940s. For most, it was their final journey: Only 3% of French citizens sent to the camps survived.
Created by French architect Georges-Henri Pingusson, the Deportation Memorial is designed to evoke a sense of imprisonment and claustrophobia—the same feelings experienced by those jailed by the Nazis—through its very narrow spaces and barred windows. A hushed underground chamber holds the Flame of Eternal Hope and the Tomb of the Unknown Deportee bearing the inscription “They descended into the mouth of the earth, and they did not return.” A chamber leading away from the flame is illuminated with 200,000 lighted crystals, each symbolizing a murdered French citizen.
It is unknown how many of the French sent to the Nazi prison camps were gay, but historical documents show that at least 100,000 Germans were imprisoned in the camps from 1933 to 1945 for homosexuality. More than 15,000 died. It is logical to assume that tens of thousands of other gay men and lesbians from all across Europe also died in the Nazi camps during World War II for no reason other than their sexual orientation.
SITE OF OSCAR WILDE’S DEATH
A tour of Paris’s must-see gay destinations wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the hotel where famed gay scribe Oscar Wilde spent his final days.
Wilde became enormously successful in the late 1800s with his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, his comedy play The Importance of Being Earnest and numerous other works. He also was revered in London’s literary circles for his intelligence and quick wit.
Sadly, that adoration gave Wilde such a dangerously inflated ego that he unwisely filed a libel lawsuit against the Marquess of Queensberry, the father of Wilde’s lover, after the man left a calling card at a private social club calling the playwright a “posing sodomite.”
Approaching the lawsuit as an almost comedic affair, Wilde was shocked to see the tables quickly turn against him. Not only was the lawsuit dismissed and Wilde forced to pay his accuser’s significant legal fees, but the evidence overwhelmingly proved that the playwright had engaged in illegal sexual liaisons with other men. He was charged with criminal gross indecency, convicted and sentenced to two years of hard labor.
The day after his release from prison in 1897, Wilde exiled himself to Paris. Living in Room 16 at the Hotel d’Alsace (now known as L’Hotel) in the city’s Saint Germain des Pres neighborhood, an impoverished Wilde began a three-year bender that helped hasten his death at age 46.
On his deathbed, Wilde famously announced, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go.” Unfortunately, on Nov. 30, 1900, the wallpaper won.
Visitors to L’Hotel can enjoy cocktails in the hunting lodge-themed bar or dine in the hotel’s luxurious (and rather pricey) restaurant, which serves breakfast from 7 to 10:30 a.m. daily, lunch from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and dinner from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
But perhaps the ultimate treat would be to book a stay in the very room in which the playwright lived and died—which remains mostly unchanged since 1900. (Yes, that frightful wallpaper is still challenging guests to a battle of wits!) When contacting the hotel for reservations, simply request room 16 or ask for the Oscar Wilde room.
FLAME OF LIBERTY/DIANA MEMORIAL
Ask any gay man of a certain age about the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and you’re likely to get a tearful, emotional recalling of his grief at the passing of the “People’s Princess.”
Outside the realm of Disney queens, there’s never been such a strong connection between royalty and the LGBT community as there was between Diana and gay men worldwide, perhaps due to Diana’s early work in fighting the global AIDS pandemic and her close friendships with such gay icons as Elton John, Gianni Versace and Freddie Mercury.
And although Paris’s Flame of Liberty—a gold-leaf-covered replica of the torch held by New York City’s Statue of Liberty—officially has nothing to do with Diana’s 1997 death, its location atop the tunnel where she was killed in a horrific car crash turned the elegant statue into an ad hoc memorial that endures to this day.
The statue, positioned at the northern end of the bridge Pont de l’Alma on the Place de l’Alma, was given to the city by the International Herald Tribune (the global edition of The New York Times) in 1989 to mark the 100th anniversary of the American newspaper’s publication in the city.
But after Diana’s death, Parisians and visitors alike flocked to the site to pay respects to the deceased princess and to “see” the site where she lost her life (although, truthfully, one can only view the entrance/exit to the tunnel in which her chauffeured car crashed). Many left bouquets of flowers and personal notes to the Princess at the base of the Flame of Liberty.
Today, more than 15 years later, scores of visitors still do.
SIGHT ACCESS INFORMATION
PLACE DES VOSGES/STATUE OF LOUIS XIII
About one block north of Rue Saint-Antoine and two blocks west of Boulevard Beaumarchais in the heart of the Marais
Hours: Accessible 24/7
PERE LACHAISE CEMETERY
16 Rue du Repos in Paris’s 20th Arrondissement
Metro: Philippe Auguste/Gambetta
Tel: 01 55 25 82 10
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Square de l’Ile-de-France, on the eastern tip of Ile de la Cite
Tel: 01 46 33 87 56
Hours: Daily 10 a.m.-noon and 2-7 p.m.
SITE OF OSCAR WILDE’S DEATH
L’Hotel (formerly the Hotel d’Alsace)
13 Rue des Beaux Arts in the Saint Germain des Pres neighborhood
Tel: 01 44 41 99 00
FLAME OF LIBERTY
Place de l’Alma, at the north end of the bridge Pont de l’Alma
Hours: Accessible 24/7
BOB ADAMS is a former managing editor of HIV Plus magazine and a contributing editor to The Advocate. He is currently publishing his first travel guide, LGBT Paris: A Gay and Lesbian Travel Guide to the City of Light.