PARIS — Video footage showing men assaulting a transgender woman during a demonstration in central Paris last weekend has prompted outrage and debate about transphobic attitudes in the country, in what some activists called a shift in France’s attitude toward transgender people.
The video, filmed on Sunday during one of the large, weekly demonstrations held by members of the expatriate Algerian community against Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned as president of Algeria this week, shows the woman being taunted by several men and being repeatedly punched by one of them.
The footage had been viewed more than two million times on social media by Thursday.
Marlène Schiappa, France’s minister for gender equality, called the assault “clearly transphobic” and “unacceptable.” She said on Twitter, “The perpetrators must be identified and prosecuted.”
The Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation on charges of “violence committed on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.” One suspect was detained and later released.
The 31-year-old transgender woman, who preferred to be identified only by her first name, Julia, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that it was not the first time she had experienced “inappropriate comments and behavior from men.”
“But this was the first time I was the victim of a physical assault,” she said.
Julia, who in the video is shown walking through the crowd in the Place de la République, a large square in Paris, said that she had been about to take the metro when three men blocked her way.
“One of them looked at me and said, ‘You’re a man,’” she said. “He did not want to allow me to pass.”
Someone threw beer at her, she said, and one man put his hand on her chest. The video begins as Julia ascends stairs and a man ruffles her hair. An unidentified woman draped in a flag rushes over to her and grabs her arm as if to lead her away. As Julia moves through the crowd toward the man who touched her head, he punches her repeatedly while another man tries to kick her.
Some protesters try to intercede before a team of metro security officers arrives and escorts her away.
Lyes Alouane, an activist with Stop Homophobia, an organization that is helping Julia deal with the aftermath of the attack, said he had posted the video on Twitter after receiving it from the person who filmed it.
But Mr. Alouane said he had not expected the reaction from the public to be so strong, and he praised the authorities for having reacted quickly.
The number of transgender people in France is unclear. Estimates range from 10,000 to 50,000.
Since 2016, it has been possible to officially change gender in France without having to go through medical treatments or surgery. But activists say discrimination against transgender people is still widespread.
“Transphobia is still part of our daily life; it is rooted in the institutions which pathologize transgender people,” said Giovanna Rincon, a transgender activist who leads the organization Acceptess-Transgenres.
Emmanuel Beaubatie, a sociologist who specializes in gender issues, said that it was still seen as “a degrading process” for a man to transition to a woman.
“Many gender stereotypes surround transgender women, and these stereotypes lead to their social and economic insecurity,” he said. “Media coverage hardly changes this situation.”
Arnaud Alessandrin, a sociologist who specializes in gender issues at the University of Bordeaux, said Julia’s case showed that French society was changing its attitude toward transgender people.
“We have gone from a status of silence on transphobia to a status of outrage and finally to a status of action,” he said.
Still, transgender people still face challenges to acceptance in France. In a survey of 1,600 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people conducted in Bordeaux and which will be released next May, Mr. Alessandrin found that 20 percent of the 108 transgender people among them said they had suffered a physical attack in the past year.
SOS Homophobia, a support organization in France, said in a report last year that it had recorded 186 transphobic episodes in 2017, an increase of 53 percent from the previous year.
In Julia’s case, her willingness to discuss the attack on her has helped to raise awareness about the episode.
“At first, I wanted to move on to something else,” she said. “But given the many reactions and support I received, I decided to speak out. I am well aware that in a week’s time, this affair will be forgotten. So as long as I can make it visible, I will do so.”
As for her attackers, she said, “The abusers are simply ignorant people, who do not understand our situation.”
Julia was featured on the front page of the left-leaning newspaper Libération with the headline, “I am trans, so what?”