By Rebecca Rosman
PARIS, Oct 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The figures tell one story; gay activists fear another.
But nobody disputes that Paris has suffered a string of homophobic attacks in recent months, with gay men set upon in a chic inner-city neighbourhood and a trans prostitute shot dead in a popular cruising spot in the French capital.
Yet police say their data shows a strong drop in homophobic attacks, so the mood among activists has turned angry, fear of the what-next jostling with frustration at perceived inaction by authorities in a city with a reputation for tolerance.
Sitting in the lounge of Paris's LGBT Centre, 68-year-old activist Arnaud Rault told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he felt "on edge" following the rise in anti-gay violence.
"We saw August as a signal," Rault said, referring to the murder of Vanesa Campos, a Peruvian transgender prostitute who was shot dead in Paris's Bois du Boulogne.
Earlier this month, two men were harassed and beaten by a Paris taxi driver for kissing in his cab in the 'city of love'.
The couple immediately pressed charges.
Police have logged a 37-percent drop in reports of LGBT+ related attacks during the first nine months of this year, with 74 incidents reported against 118 in the same period of 2017.
However activists say the numbers do not tell the whole story as many assaults go unreported.
"(The police figures) are not representative, since not all victims of LGBT violence file an official complaint," said Joel Deumier, president of SOS Homophobie.
The organisation, which runs a free hotline service so LGBT+ victims of assault can report the attacks anonymously, said it had received a 15 percent increase in calls over the past year.
In response, the Paris Prefecture told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that its job was to "collect statistics based on reported assaults." As for providing any additional numbers, the police said "that's where the work of NGOs comes in."
According to SOS Homophobie's 2018 report on homophobia in France, one LGBT+ person is assaulted every three days.
TAKE TO THE STREETS
More than 3,000 people - including members of French President Emmanuel Macron's government - gathered in Paris on Sunday to denounce the violence and demand action.
"The government must take concrete measures to contain this wave of homophobia," said Deumier, who demanded the government increase its annual €500,000 ($570,000) budget allocated towards fighting anti-LGBT+ hate.
Addressing the crowd, Guillaume Melanie, president of Urgence Homophobie, an organisation that helps LGBT+ people to seek asylum in France, recounted how he had been assaulted just days earlier in an attack that had left his nose broken.
"I didn't steal anything, I didn't insult anyone, I didn't attack anyone. I'm just homosexual," Melanie told Reuters at the demonstration.
Melanie was punched in the face and verbally harassed while leaving a restaurant in the Marais, an elegant Paris district with a strong gay culture.
Shortly after posting about his assault on social media, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the recent series of homophobic attacks "calls for a collective action".
The deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire, who attended Sunday's rally, said he and Hidalgo would meet a number of LGBT+ associations, police representatives and other government organisations over coming weeks to work out next steps.
They would seek to establish a response to what he called the "resurgence of homophobic violence".
The attacks comes as France considers legalising assisted reproduction for gay women — a campaign promise by the centrist president. The move would mark a significant extension of gay rights in France, where violent protests preceded the legalisation of same-sex marriage and adoption by homosexual couples in 2013.
France's gender equality minister Marlene Schiappa insisted the Macron government was working to suppress the current spate of violence.
"The state is with them," she told a television reporter.
"Homophobia is not an opinion, you do not have the right in France to threat, aggress, insult or discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation." (Reporting by Rebecca Rosman @Rebs_Rosman; Editing by Hugo Greenhalgh and Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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