Tens of thousands of supporters of the conservative “Manif pour Tous” movement gathered in Paris on Sunday to protest against gender equality teaching in schools and fertility treatment for same-sex couples.
Sunday’s march included a prominent Muslim contribution in a protest movement, originally opposed to gay marriage legislation that was passed in 2013, that has so far been overwhelmingly linked to far-right political parties and to conservative Catholic groups.
The “Manif Pour Tous” (MPT) mounted huge protests before legislation was passed in 2013 allowing gay marriages. Its focus now is on a family law, due to be debated later in the spring, which would allow for medically-assisted procreation (MAP) and IVF treatment for same-sex couples.
Many protesters also told FRANCE 24 they were worried about the state’s role in sex education, and the supposed “gender theory” lurking behind an “ABCD of equality” initiative aimed at breaking down gender stereotypes in schools.
The demonstrators claim the move is a deliberate attempt to brainwash children from an early age against what they consider the “natural” differences between men and women, boys and girls.
“The state has no business lecturing children on subjects as private as sexual identity or of imposing adult preoccupations on young children,” said MPT leader Ludivine de la Rochère, voicing a concern shared by many of the Muslim associations that joined Sunday’s march through central Paris.
Among the heads of the various groups was Samir Driss, of the Muslims for Childhood group.
He told FRANCE 24 that increasing numbers of Muslims were joining the MPT movement, despite its Christian and far-right reputation, attracted to its traditional and conservative view of family life.
“Education should be about teaching children skills so that they can get jobs,” he said. “Sex education is not going to get them into work. Sexuality is a subject that I will raise in front of my children when I see fit. I don’t want my children to go to school to learn about touching each other.”
‘I cannot accept it’
His words were echoed by Camel Bechikh, who heads the ‘Sons of France’ association of patriotic French Muslims.
“The state is responsible for practical instruction of children in schools, not their moral education, which is the business of the family,” he told FRANCE 24. “When I take my children to school I expect them to be taught history and geography. I don’t want them to be told the state’s idea of what is morally right or wrong. That is my job as their father and head of the family.”
At the very front of the march, which was dominated by middle class ethnically French demonstrators, Najib Guarraz was among a group holding a huge banner bearing the words, in French and in Arabic: “French Muslims opposed to same-sex marriage.”
The 54-year-old father of two told FRANCE 24 he was protesting because the government was “screwing with children’s heads”.
“I am opposed to gender theory lessons in schools, I am opposed to same-sex marriage,” he said. “We are in the process of destroying the fundamentals of French life.
“Gender theory will screw up our children. They are telling them that ‘maybe you are a boy but you also have a bit of girl in you, and it’s up to you to choose your sex.
“It’s not on. Adults are screwing with children’s heads and teachers are being trained to poison their minds. I cannot accept it.”
Sunday’s protest comes a week after several thousand people marched through Paris in a violent “Day of Anger” against the policies of President François Hollande’s Socialist government, including last year’s law allowing gay marriage.