Blogs and institutional homophobia in France
18 January 2006
The french-speaking blogosphere is pissed off. Something happened. It's a story about the implications in real life of having a blog, the clash between the apparent freedom of the online universe and the fears and rigidity of some national institution or company you may work for.
We already had some stories about students expelled from schools because of what they wrote on their blogs, for example about their teachers. Now there is a twist : it's a high school principal who has been fired because of his blog.
It was quite a serious blog, despite the nickname he chose ("Garfieldd"). He talked openly about many things like his thoughts about education, politics, his sometimes challenging work, his colleagues, and also - never mixing this with other subjects - his life as a single 40-something homosexual. Apparently, that's where the problem was.
Some teacher in another high school in the same small city in the south of France recognized him and reported him to the educational hierarchy.
After a few months, the "Education Nationale", the public institution dealing with everything related to education in France, "revoked" him, without any warning. Some anonymous commission decided about it, and then the decision was confirmed by the education minister. Revocation is the highest punishment, very rarely applied, only when someone is heavily condamned by law, which is not even the case here. It means that not only he was fired, but also that he can no longer get any job in a public office whatsoever. In other words, his life is broken. All of that probably for talking (anonymously, but unfortunately he left some hints about where his high school was) about his sexuality, and showing three pictures of some male models in boxer shorts.
Some representant of the "Education Nationale", probably in an attempt to keep a good image, said he had a pornographic web site. That's their main defense for the moment. And it's a blatant lie. I think it's a case of institutional homophobia, and it hurts to see that happening in my country. Just in case you don't know, here are a few advertising campaigns you can see in the french streets, magazines or TV. But of course, these are naked women and heterosexual esthetics, so it's okay.
Another thing I should mention is that this principal was very appreciated by his colleagues and subordinates, even by the students. He received high grades from his hierarchy for his efficient work. So basically the guy was doing an excellent job in his school.
My feeling is that this blogger probably did a few small errors, like not being anonymous enough. If the hierarchy was not happy about it, they should have warned him clearly first, or even punished him lightly, before resorting to the nuclear bomb option. That's why I think he was the victim of the homophobia of members of this commission. The minister just followed the advice of the commission without even checking the facts, but that's unfortunately quite normal for busy people with a lot of responsabilities. The blogger himself kept a very low profile for months, because he didn't know what the decision would be (he received the final word in january), and even then, didn't want to hinder his chances and hopes for a possible appeal.
But now for some reason the story is out and every detail became public. In just a few days, hundreds of articles were written by french bloggers shocked by this extremely unfair decision. A lot of ex-readers of Garfieldd's blog expressed their outrage, including parents of young children who praised the blogger's humanity and sensitivity. Old media like newspapers and TV heard the roar of the blogosphere and also exposed the scandal, in a quite sympathetic tone for the blogger. The best thing is that Garfieldd's blog, which was ordered closed months ago by the commision, is still available through Archive.org (in english) or Google cache. So everybody can check if this blog was "pornographic". And of course, it was not at all.
With some chance the appeal will go through and the decision will be overturned by the minister. That's clearly what a lot of people hope, including myself. Maybe for the first time in France, the collective power of the blogosphere will be instrumental to reveal a scandal harshly affecting an individual, and help change this very unfair decision.
[Some links] There are now a handful of articles in english about it in several blogs. Here are a few links :
[Full disclosure] I don't know this blogger, I was not a regular reader of his blog, I am not part of the Education Nationale, I am not working in France, I am not even gay, so I guess I have no particular interest in defending this guy, except the fact that I hate injustice and FUD.