“I knew when I was around five and a half years old that I liked girls, but I didn’t know what it meant and how it was going to affect my life,” says Louise Turazzard.

The 38-year-old is one of tens of thousands of people who have turned out on the streets of Paris to celebrate Pride, or “La marche des fiertés” in French – a day which belongs to the LGBTQ+ community and gives them a chance to express themselves in the most public way possible – with a celebration of love, dance, music and festivities that has now spread around the world.

This year’s Pride parade in Paris includes floats by companies including national rail service SNCF, Delta Airlines and Air France, as well as floats just celebrating queerness and freedom – with people dressed in a huge array of costumes from angel wings to hot pants shaking their hips to the rhythms of the tunes blasted by the float’s DJ.

Turazzard comes to Pride almost every year, and says the event just keeps getting better – “It changes every year. I’ve been doing it for twenty years, and I think there are more young people here now. Pride used to be a bit more serious.”

This year, she’s come with her girlfriend, Delphine – the two have been together for two and a half years and say they’ve come to show the dignity of the queer community, and to support the freedom to own your sexuality.

She’s not alone in this sentiment – many participants in this year’s Pride have come bearing signs with slogans such as “This is my freedom, look after your own” and “Lesbianism is not for male porn” – people are here to own their sexuality and be proud of it.

The couple say they haven’t experienced any issues with people refusing to accept their relationship, but 28-year-old Elisabeth Chiaverini points out that many haven’t been so lucky, referring to the case of a gay couple in England who were attacked during a journey on a London bus.

28-year-old Melania Geymonat and her girlfriend Chris were beaten on the evening of May 30 after they refused to obey a group of men who commanded them to kiss. The widely reported attack resulted in the arrests of four young men, and Geymonat told the BBC it was the first time she had ever been attacked for her sexuality.

“It touched everyone,” Chiaverini says about the attack, which made headlines in France too. “Gay people suffer. There was recently a gay couple who were attacked in the 10th arrondissement (of Paris). I think it’s incomprehensible to attack people on the basis of their sexuality.”

Chiaverini is an ally who attends Pride every year in support of her father, who is openly gay. After her parents separated when she was around ten, her father came out to her and her siblings when she was twelve. Whilst her siblings took the news badly at the time, Chiaverini accepted his sexuality, having already suspected that this was the cause of her parents ‘separation, and she has been his steadfast confidante for the last sixteen years.

“Even though I’m heterosexual, I put myself in the place of gay people and I think what they have to go through isn’t fair,” she says. “Your sexuality only concerns you. No one has the right to judge you and you shouldn’t be ashamed.”

As she has lots of gay friends, Chiaverini says she has sometimes encountered situations where her friends were attacked – including once in her birthplace of Corsica. As she walked down the beach with two male friends who happened to be dating, they were verbally attacked by an acquaintance of hers.

“I went back and asked him, ‘What did you say?’ and he said he wasn’t talking to me. I said, ‘No, but you were talking to my friends.’ He said he didn’t have an issue with me, but I asked him why he had a problem with my friends. He had around 20 of his friends with him and we could have easily been beaten up.”

Chiaverini says she this Pride has been particularly special for her because she had an emotional encounter with a mother and her 10-year-old son who had come from the suburbs to attend the event.

“He´s gay, and he was really unhappy about it, you could see it. But his mother supports him to death, she brought him here to show him he was normal. I spoke to him and told him, ‘You’re 10 and it’s hard now but it’s going get better in around four or five years.’ I don’t know if it’s going to help him but I’m so happy I got to speak to him.”

This story shows just how difficult it is to be gay, she says – even though he’d dared to be open with his mother, he knew he would be in trouble if the news spread at school – and Chiaverini says people need to own their queerness just as she owns her heterosexuality.

Exactly five months before Pride, on January 28, the French government launched a campaign in schools to educate youth in schools and increase LGBTQ+ awareness, the “Everyone Equal, Everyone Allied” campaign. In an accompanying statement, the Ministry of National Education said it was vital to ensure a “serene environment for all.” In a statement addressed to LGBTQ+ students on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, Minister for Education Jean-Michel Blanquer said the structure of education “is here to listen to you, understand you, help you and protect you.”

According to French non-profit organisation SOS Homophobie, 2018 showed an increase of 38% in homophobic acts in schools from the previous year, and a study by French polling firm IFOP recorded 18% of LGBTQ+ students claiming they had been insulted in the last 12 months. The same study said 72% of students identifying as trans classified their school experience as “bad” or “very bad.”

Homosexuality has been legal in France since 1791, a good 176 years before it was legal in Britain. However, it was only in the 1980s that equality began to become a reality, with the overturning of an “indecent exposure” law which often criminalised homosexuals, and the equalising of the age of consent for homosexual and heterosexual couples. Same-sex marriage became legal in 2013, and the country is widely regarded as being LGBTQ-friendly, with the capital even being home to the queer district of Le Marais.

However, the IFOP study reported 59% of participants saying they had previously made active behavioural changes to avoid homophobic aggression, with 43% of participants saying they had felt afraid to kiss their same-sex partner in public, and 41% of participants saying they had felt afraid to hold their partner´s hand.

Despite these difficulties, Pride in Paris remains the biggest in the country. The first ever parade held in 1977, just seven years after the first ever Pride parade in New York City in 1970. In 1969, the American megacity bore witness to the Stonewall riots, pioneered by the local queer community, which changed the face of the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights and are still remembered today as being a defining moment for the queer community worldwide.

Singer Bilal Hassani, one of the headline performers at this year’s Pride in Paris, is quickly becoming one of the country’s most iconic LGBTQ+ icons. The 19-year-old, who is openly gay and usually performs in a blonde wig and makeup, represented France in the Eurovision Song Contest this year singing the song “Roi” – meaning “King” – which encourages people to embrace their differences. Despite facing a wave of homophobic abuse leading up to the contest, Hassani took a defiant stance, writing on his Instagram page that he “did not listen” to the haters and “kept following my dreams.”

Enzo Vasse, a 16-year-old student, also doesn’t shy away from owning his identity, saying he doesn’t define himself. He’s come to Pride for the first time with a group of friends, who are carrying the trans flag.

“I’ve come to defend LGBT rights,” he says. “It’s primordial. The principle is that they’re still a minority and somewhat niche. Most people are okay with it now but what they don’t realise is that anyone could be gay.”

Reflecting on what he makes of his first ever Pride, Vasse says, “It’s cool. It’s really festive and I really like it. It’s quite representative, there’s everything here.”

However, the queer community in Paris and elsewhere in France continues to face certain difficulties. One particular issue, which is a talking point at this year´s Pride, is assisted reproductive technology, or Procréation Médicalement Assistée (PMA) in French. This is not yet accessible to everyone, with lesbian couples and single women struggling to gain access.

This becomes a focal point at this year’s Pride, as activists takes to the stage to start up a rallying call for everyone to be allowed access to the technology. The call is met with deafening cheers, and attendees wave their banners reading “PMA for everyone.”  This struggle seems to be finally bearing fruition, as Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced in June that a law guaranteeing access to all is in the making.

As the parade comes to an end and masses of people gather in front of the main stage at République square, a presenter comes onstage and reminds them of the three minutes of silence held earlier for their queer comrades who have died, and now asks them to make one minute of noise, so that “people in countries that aren’t as lucky as we are can hear us.” Hundreds of red balloons are later released into the air as a DJ set comes to an end.

“We need to remind ourselves why we’re fighting and why we’re together,” Delphine says. Turazzard concurs, saying there needs to be solidarity and unity between different groups. “Love will always win,” she says with a smile.

The article above was amended on 13/9/19.