The Heritage of the Eurovision Song Contest (part 2)

I talked in my first article about the way the Eurovision Song Contest can teach us about our European heritage. On Saturday, the Eurovision Song Contest finale will take place in Tel Aviv. The French contestant is Bilal Hassani with the song Roi. He has been compared to Conchita Wurst, the Austrian drag queen who famously won in 2014. The French entry as well as Rise like a phoenix by Conchita, deals with difference and self acceptance. Both artists represent a side of the Eurovision Song Contest that has become more and more important over the years, the contest has become a place where LGBTQ people can express themselves. Some people even call the Eurovision Song Contest the  “gay olympics” 

There has been a long heritage of queer performers in the Eurovision Song Contest, at times the contest has been a pioneer in showing LGBTQ people on TV. In some European countries, like in Russia, being gay is still a crime. A country like Russia participates in and broadcasts the Eurovision Song Contest and has to show those artists and those songs promoting acceptance and tolerance. But everything is not that easy. Last year, the Irish entry’s dancers portrayed a gay couple, Russia had problems with this performance and threatened to broadcast an edited version of the song. However, the rules are very strict and Russia could have faced a ban from the contest if they had.  

Actually, when Russia organised the contest in 2009, there was a lot of security around the contest to prevent journalists or fans talking too much about the democratic issues of Russia. A gay pride was organised trying to use the Eurovision platform to have their rights recognised by the state. The demonstration, though, was quickly forbidden and reprimanded. 

The first representation for LGBTQ contestents dates mostly back to 1998.  

Dana International, israeli representative in the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest

The first major LGBTQ contestant was Dana International in 1998, she won the contest with the song Diva, she is a Transgender woman. She represented Israel at the time, and her participation caused a lot of negative reactions in her country, she even received death threats and needed a lot of security. The gay community really supported Dana International and 1998 was the year the gay community embraced the Eurovision Song Contest openly. The next year, the contest was held in Jerusalem and their, the israeli gay community organised a lot of parties to show the open mindedness of the country. Today, Tel Aviv is known for its gay community. Every year, a lot of Eurovision related parties are held in each host city. This year is not different in Tel Aviv. The first semi final of the contest was held on 14th May and Dana International performed there. During the performance the broadcaster organised a “kiss cam” famous in the USA during sporting events. It showed gay couples kissing, this is a way to show gay people on tv channels all around Europe and especially countries where it is not accepted, like in Russia for instance.   

Also, in 2002, Slovenia participated in the contest with the band Sestre. In the performance, there were crossdressers dressed as air hostesses. There were demonstrations in the country, it was even brought to Parliament, going as far as the EU. After these reactions, the EU questioned the admission of Slovenia to the European Union. 

Sestre, Slovenian contestants in the 2002 Eurovision Song Contest

To conclude we could say that the Eurovision Song Contest is a place where LGBTQ people can be visible and have a voice in Europe and especially in countries where queer people are still not acceptable.  

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