As we near the end of the alphabet season of the podcast, Q is for Queer, and here’s our insight into Gay Paris (and by gay we mean LGBTQIA+). Featured in this blog post, and the podcast episode below, is also a look at how the ever-increasing rent prices of the Marais have changed the face of the district’s famed gay quarter.
The podcast episode
But First … A Brief History of the LGBTQIA+ in France
It was at the beginning of the 19th century that Paris began to thrive as the queer capital of Europe.
France’s history has evidence of male aristocrats who were known to have had relationships with other men and some hypothesize that King Louis XIII (depicted in the sculpture pictured below) might have been gay. Critics used to call him “Louis the Chaste”, because he never had any mistresses and it took 20 years to conceive an heir.
Bryan Pirolli from The Gay Locals said on the podcast that “these accusations undercut his power – and we see the same sorts of attempts to undermine countless monarchs throughout French history, including Marie Antoinette. Louis XIII, though, actually just really loved his wife. Allegedly…”
Throughout history the queer community has been persecuted, an example of this is in 1750 when a couple were burned to death in front of the Hotel de Ville for being gay. There is now a memorial laid at Rue Montorgueil where the two were arrested by police. France became the first western nation to decriminalize homosexuality during the revolution at the end of the 18th century.
Later at the end of the 19th century came the economic expansion of the Belle Époque which gave Paris the bohemian reputation it still maintains today. It was during this time that Paris saw the emergence of a network of salons, bars and cafes for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Well known queer names from this period include Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach, Colette, Sarah Bernhardt, James Baldwin and Oscar Wilde (read about his last days in Paris here). Several of these people were expatriates who came to Paris seeking refuge as the city was more accepting of diversity than their homelands.
Paris was known as the “queer” capital in the early 20th century thanks to the visibility it gave to the LGBTQIA+ community and that continues to this day in Paris.
Where is the gay quarter in Paris?
Le Marais has been known as the gay neighborhood since the 1970s, but times are now changing…
In the late 21st century, the Marais was not the hip, fashionable and picturesque part of town that it is now. In the 1970s and 1980s, the district was neglected and shunned by Parisians. This neglect created an opportunity for the marginalized LGBTQIA+ community to establish a presence in the neighborhood.
The Marais then developed exponentially as a queer quartier and was particularly thriving in the 90s and early 2000s. Many gay bars and restaurants can still be found along Rue des Archives.
Le Marais, however, is not exactly the gay neighbourhood it used to be.
Why is gay quarter of Paris moving?
Bryan Pirolli from The Gay Locals, pointed out on the podcast that “the Marais has really become a shell of what it once was. Walking around the Marais, along rue des Archives, you’ll see a few gay bars and rainbow flags, but most notable places have closed”.
One of those beloved locations was the bookshop Les Mots à la Bouche. The shop used to be on Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie, but soaring rent costs forced the team to leave the Marais for the cheaper 11th arrondissement, now at 37 Rue Saint-Ambroise.
Bookseller Nicolas Wanstok (pictured below) said he hopes the village feel and community spirit of the 11th arrondissement may make for a new version of the Marais.
Bryan Pirolli points out that “the LGBTQIA+ community hasn’t really moved anywhere else. But then again, times are changing, and with so much more acceptance in Paris, you can argue whether or not we still need a visible gay neighborhood (I and most argue that we still do…!).”
In any case Bryan Pirolli adds: “becoming invisible is the first step towards losing what those who came before us fought for, so it’s important to keep seeing rainbows in Paris, whether it’s in the Marais or beyond.”
What to find in gay Paris?
Here are some addresses mentioned in the episode and a few extras for good measure:
Restaurants and bakeries
Le Ju’: This all-day brasserie is staffed with a queer team who are happy to welcome anyone and everyone, they want their restaurant to be a safe space for all. If the weather is nice make sure you dine “en terrace” under their canopy of rainbow umbrellas. 16 Rue des Archives, 75004 Paris
Legay Choc: Bakery in the Marais making classic french pastries, some taking on more phallic shapes than others… This is their new location and it is certainly more tame in comparison to their last. 33 Rue Rambuteau, 75004 Paris
Bars and nightlife
Le Raidd: Where men take showers in booths “there’s a very good chance you’ll get wet”… 23 Rue du Temple, 75004 Paris
La Mutinerie: Lesbian and feminist bar 176-178 Rue Saint-Martin, 75003 Paris
La Champmesle: Lesbian bar in le Marais 4 Rue Chabanais, 75002 Paris
Quetzal: Gay bar in le Marais 10 Rue de la Verrerie, 75004 Paris
La Wet For Me: Queer and lesbian club night, various clubs across Paris
Le Rosa Bonheur: Gay bar located within le Parc Buttes Chaumont 2 Av. de la Cascade, 75019 Paris
Find LGBTQ+ or HIV/AIDS memorials Paris doesn’t have major LGBTQ+ or HIV/AIDS memorials like other cities. In 2014, the city did create a plaque on the ground on 67 rue Montorgueil to the last two homosexuals to be burned to death way back in 1750.
A newer memorial in the 10th, not far from the Marais, commemorates Cleews Vellay, an AIDS activist and president of ACT UP who worked in a building at 44 rue René Boulanger. This new plaque went up in 2019.
The LGBT Movie festival: This takes place in November each year at different MK2 cinemas across Paris.
Pride March: On the last Saturday in June over a million people flock to the streets of Paris to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community.
Les mots à la bouche: An LGBT bookstore, with an English-language shelf. The staff recommended James Baldwin’s 1956 novel about homosexuality, Giovanni’s Room, which was based on his time spent in Paris. 37 Rue Saint-Ambroise, 75011 Paris
Centre LGBTQI+ de Paris – Cultural information center which offers exhibitions as well as counselling for gay migrants and asylum seekers. 63 Rue Beaubourg, 75003 Paris
Find the rainbow invader and crosswalks on Rue des Archives
Here’s The Earful Tower’s podcast episode again in case you missed it, with new episodes every Monday. The next one will be all about “R is for…”, you’ll have to tune in next week to find out what it is.
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Photography by Augusta Sagnelli, find her on Substack here.