May 17th, 2016, is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. Riviera resident Jameson Farn talks about the local gay community and offers some LGBT friendly hangouts.
There is something magical about the Côte d’Azur. Besides the gorgeous weather and scenery, there has to be something that has brought so many people here from around the world to discover for themselves.
Growing up in Canada, I had, of course, always heard about the French Riviera and it was on my first trip to France in the early 1990s, while visiting relatives in the Dordogne Valley, that it was suggested that I check out the region.
This was well before the internet had taken a hold of the world, and long before any kind of social media, at a time when one would read what one could about a place, or ask for advice on what to see and do from friends and family who had been before. Although I was a bit nervous, it also felt exciting.
As a young gay man having just experienced the Paris scene for the first time the month before, there seemed to be less information to go on with the Côte d’Azur and so the start of this adventure would be one that ended up actually changing the direction of my life.
Acceptance for being gay at this time was still difficult both in North America and Europe; basically, it was safer to just keep to yourself and close friends, keep your emotions and mannerisms in check and, if you couldn’t pass for straight, it was wise to blend in with the crowd as best you could.
This was difficult for me because since the time I was a little boy, I was never the most naturally masculine looking and with that came the teasing and various degrees of bullying from a young age. Fortunately, though, I used those early episodes to build a tough shell and figured if I was going to be taunted, I was not going to hide but rather stay as true to myself as I could, even before I really knew what it was to be gay.
Although I’d heard stories from friends that it was tough for them to be gay, from my earliest first encounters visiting Europe I personally found I had more of an acceptance here. Call it naïve or what you will but, with all my exploring of the country, and leaving nightclubs in the middle of the night, I have yet to have an issue and I’m the kind that likes a good adventure, almost looking for the unusual to happen. Even though today one has to be aware and on guard in one’s surroundings, there just seems to be more acceptances now in the LGBT community.
When I first arrived by train to Nice one evening back in September 1990, I was enamoured right away. Thinking back, the city was a bit grotty then, there was no tram system in place, the street lighting seemed sparse, it was even dirty to an extent, yet Nice had a certain edge to it. To this day I recall my first impressions, there is a lot of history here and a certain mystery about the place, you could just sense it in the air and, for this, the region has been intriguing to me ever since. I found the French interested in other people and their lives in France; it feels more important to socialise with others than to sit in front of a computer, and to appreciate the people, places and things that surround you, taking in life in general.
Those days, when trying to find out more about the local gay community, everything seemed to be by chance and having limited knowledge of the French language didn’t make it easy either, along with not knowing anyone. But I found while touring around, sometimes at a café or an avant-garde clothing shop, you’d come across these seemingly homemade promotional flyers by the entrance door, some with subtle yet provocative male images that would state the name of a nightclub with an address, it was at least a start.
The local gay community here, compared to what I was used to back in Canada, was definitely smaller at the time but it had a hopeful spirit. The one or two places I did find in Nice then were very private, and with an expensive cover charge and drink prices, you took your chances but these clubs would also be packed with great music, people smiling and a ton of fun all night long.
Over the years, like any other gay community I have visited in North America and Europe, establishments would open and close with some hanging on until the bitter end (the internet and mobile apps haven’t helped). But one thing that I have noticed since the early Nineties is that the LGBT community on the Côte d’Azur continues to slowly grow and has pulled through any economy, even becoming much stronger as the years pass, with the core of what friends and I experience as being a positive sense of community. Less cliquey than what I have found in other cities, almost like a family that watches out and supports one another.
Every year it seems a new straight bar also holds gay-friendly nights and there is always something to suit everyone’s choices now, with many of the establishments cross promoting with one another. Having become friends with many owners and managers, when I have asked them about this promotional practice which I rarely experience in North America, each one has told me it doesn’t make sense to have a competing business as an enemy, the stronger everyone is, the stronger the community.
For a number of years now, both Nice Tourisme and Cannes Is Yours, along with various city officials and mayors, have jumped on board recognising the value of the “pink dollar”; tourism campaigns are making it much easier to help promote the French Riviera as being more of a gay travel destination every year. This has helped the local economy and it can certainly be felt during high season with nothing cooler than meeting people from various cultures around the world enjoying the atmosphere at a nightclub or at a beach bar.
When gay marriage became legal in France on May 18, 2013, the happiness was certainly obvious; it’s a fantastic feeling to see friends you have known for 20 years, who have been a couple all that time, finally get the chance to legally marry. To be in attendance at such an event is truly heart-warming and not taken for granted.
Lou Queernaval, France’s first gay carnival, has also been very beneficial. In 2015, its inaugural event during Nice’s carnival was hard to get media attention outside of France and funds had to be raised for the most part within the community to put on the event. After the first successful test run, worldwide media attention was not a problem at all this year, nor was sponsorship. In fact, they came to the organisers of Lou Queernaval in Nice, which has helped tremendously. Word was out well before the festivities began this year with gay publications and websites in contact for a storyline from places such as New York, Los Angeles and London; travel bloggers were coming to experience and then write about not only the carnival but various tourist spots and businesses as well.
Plenty has changed over the years and for the better. There is something special about the French Riviera, and it is wonderful to experience a region open up their minds and hearts to grow along with the rest of the world.
• Club 7: 7 rue Rouguiere • Friends Bar: 52 rue Jean Jaures
• Glam: 6 rue Eugene Emanue • Malabar Station: 10 rue Bonaparte • Morgan Hot Cruising Bar: 3 rue Claudia • Gossip Bar: 7 rue Bonaparte • Le Bar Bitch: 2 rue Rossetti • Le 6: 6 rue Raoul Bosio • GClub: 73 Quai des Etats-Unis • High Club: 45 Prom des Anglais • Les Garcons Restaurant: 3 rue Centrale • Comptoir Central Electrique Bar: 10 rue Bonaparte • Castel Plage: 8 Quai des États-Unis • Hi Beach: 47 Prom des Anglais • Bar Le Kult: 14 rue Benoît Bunico • Centre LGBT Côte d’Azur: 123 rue de Roquebillière