LGBT visibility in the Eurovision Song Contest

The Eurovision Song Contest has had a long-held fan base in the LGBT community, and Eurovision organisers have actively worked to include these fans in the contest since the 1990s.

LGBT participants. Paul Oscar became the contest’s first openly gay artist when he represented Iceland at the 1997 contest, and Israel’s Dana International, the contest’s first trans performer, became the first LGBT+ artist to win the contest in 1998. Several open members of the LGBT+ community have since gone on to compete and win the contest: Conchita Wurst, the drag persona of openly gay Thomas Neuwirth, won the 2014 contest for Austria; and openly bisexual performer Duncan Laurence was the winner of the 2019 contest for the Netherlands. Marija Šerifović, who won the 2007 contest for Serbia, subsequently came out publicly as a lesbian in 2013. Victoria De Angelis, a member of 2021 winning band Måneskin, openly identifies as bisexual, with fellow band member Ethan Torchio self-identifying as “sexually free”. Fellow 2021 participant Montaigne is openly bisexual.

LGBT themes in competing acts. Past competing songs and performances have included references and allusions to same-sex relationships. One of the contest’s earliest winning songs, Luxembourg’s 1961 winner “Nous les amoureux”, was confirmed by its performer Jean-Claude Pascal as containing references to a homosexual relationship and the difficulties faced by the pair, considered controversial during the early 1960s when in many European countries homosexual relations were still criminalised. Krista Siegfrids’ performance of “Marry Me” at the 2013 contest featured a same-sex kiss with one of her female backing dancers, and Ireland’s stage show of Ryan O’Shaughnessy’s “Together” in 2018 featured two male dancers portraying a same-sex relationship. Several drag performances have featured in Eurovision performances, including Austria’s Conchita Wurst, Ukraine’s Verka Serduchka, Denmark’s DQ and Slovenia’s Sestre; the latter’s selection sparked protests and debate on LGBT rights in Slovenia at the time and resulted in concerns raised at the European Parliament ahead of Slovenia’s upcoming accession to the European Union.

Criticism of LGBT visibility. Dana International’s selection for the 1998 contest in Birmingham was marked by objections and death threats from orthodox religious sections of Israeli society, and at the contest her accommodation was reportedly in the only hotel in Birmingham with bulletproof windows.

In more recent years, various political ideologies across Europe have clashed in the Eurovision setting, particularly on LGBT rights. Turkey, once a regular participant in the contest and a one-time winner, first pulled out of the contest in 2013, citing dissatisfaction in the voting rules; more recently when asked about returning to the contest Turkish broadcaster TRT have cited LGBT performances as another reason for their continued boycott. After initially planning on airing the 2013 contest, TRT eventually pulled its broadcast of the event in response to Krista Siegfrids’s same-sex kiss. It has also been reported that LGBT visibility in the contest was also a deciding factor when Hungary chose not to enter the 2020 contest amid a rise in anti-LGBT sentiment in the Hungarian government of Viktor Orbán, although no official reason has been given by the Hungarian broadcaster MTVA.

Following the introduction of a “gay propaganda” law in Russia in 2013, as well as developments in Ukraine, the 2014 contest saw a marked increase in booing from the audience, particularly during the Russian performance and during the voting when Russia received points. Conchita Wurst’s win in the contest was also met with criticism on the Russian political stage, with several conservative politicians voicing displeasure in the result. In response to the booing, the producers of the 2015 contest installed “anti-booing technology” for the broadcast, and the contest’s presenters repeatedly called on the audience not to boo; the Russian participant, Polina Gagarina, was interviewed by Conchita in the green room during a break in the voting, and attracted criticism from Russian conservatives when she posted a backstage video to social media of herself hugging Conchita. 

Clashes on LGBT visibility in the contest have also occurred in countries which do not compete in the contest. Eurovision had been broadcast in China for several years, however in 2018, the rights held by Mango TV were terminated during the 2018 contest. The live broadcast of the first semi-final featured censorship by Mango TV of Ireland’s Ryan O’Shaughnessy, whose performance reportedly went against Chinese guidelines that prohibit “abnormal sexual relationships and behaviours” due to the same-sex dancing, as well as Albania’s Eugent Bushpepa due to the open display of tattoos, which broke guidelines around the featuring so-called “sub-cultures” and “dispirited cultures”. As a result of the termination, the Chinese broadcaster was unable to broadcast the second semi-final or the grand final of the 2018 contest or any future contests.