The Eurovision Song Contest, often simply called Eurovision, is an international song competition held primarily among the member countries of the European Broadcasting Union. At least that’s how the contest is briefly described on Wikipedia. And this explains the sea of flags we see every year in the arena, with thousands of fans supporting their favourite country as well as their own.
A flag can be a powerful tool, which lead EBU to warn fans in the arena that LGBT rainbow flags should not be used to make a political statement during any of the performances. That’s ok, cause we don’t need no statements. But, wait. Why are there so many rainbow flags in the arena every year? Is Eurovision a gay event?
The short answer is no. Eurovision should not be dubbed as a gay event and it’s not related to Pride events around the world whatsoever. However, as most of us already know, Eurovision fans primarily belong in the LGBT community, which has often led to the Contest being used as a platform to promote equal rights (a prime example would be the parade during Eurovision in Moscow 2009) and fans bringing along their rainbow flags to celebrate the safe and accepting environment that the contest creates. Safe and accepting, until Cyprus gives Greece its 12 points that is – that’s when the arena turns into a mosh pit.
Further to that, every year there are a few songs about love and (no, not peace) acceptance and how humanity should overcome its differences and embrace diversity, like the Sammarinese and Finnish songs in the latest edition of the contest. But, there were only very few times that an LGBT related act graced the Eurovision stage. To celebrate Pride month, let’s take a look at some of these acts and the story behind them!
Israel 1998: Dana International – Diva
Dana was the first openly transgender artist to participate in Eurovision and, despite the attempt of religious officials in Israel to void her participation at the time, she managed to win the contest and bring Israel their 3rd victory after 19 years. Diva became a massive hit in Europe and is still one of the most memorable Eurovision winners as it opened the door to Eurovision becoming more diverse than ever before.
Slovenia 2002: Sestre – Samo Ljubezen
Moving on to the first drag ensemble to ever perform in Eurovision, Sestre also faced a lot of backlash in Slovenia after being selected in 2002, by winning the jury vote of the national final. Their participation reached the Slovenian Parliament itself, where it was discussed whether the group should be seen as a slight to the country. Thankfully, such behaviors belong to the past. However, Sestre did not manage to repeat Dana’s success and only reached 13th place in Tallinn.
Denmark 2007: DQ – Drama Queen
And from the first drag ensemble to the first solo drag act in the history of Eurovision, which almost didn’t participate in the Contest. DQ only made it to Danish national final after being selected as a wildcard. However, she managed to win the contest and make it to Eurovision, where she presented her show full of feathers, glitter and a massive crown on stage. Unfortunately the act left Europe cold and Denmark did not make the final that year.
Serbia 2007: Marija Serifovic – Molitva
Speaking of firsts, here’s a bunch of them – start counting. Molitva was:
- Serbia’s first entry (well, without Montenegro and not as Yugoslavia).
- the first winner of the contest containing no English under the televoting system.
- the first ballad to win the contest under the televoting system.
- sung by the first openly homosexual woman to participate in the Contest (most importantly!).
Generally, this list won’t contain artists that are members of the LGBT community like Jari Sillanpaa, Ryan Dolan and Saara Aalto. However, Marija used a daring exclusively female act to accompany her song, declared that love knows no boundaries and won the hearts of the public (ah, remember those innocent 100% televoting years?) and the Contest itself with 268 points.
Israel 2011: Dana International – Ding Dong
Guess who’s back? Thirteen years after her victory, Dana International decided she wants to follow Johnny Logan’s steps and participated in the Israeli national final, aiming for a second victory, making true on her promise that she would enter the Contest again if it was ever held in Germany. She comfortably managed to win the national final and her song Ding Dong became the Israeli entry. Unfortunately, things don’t usually go well for returning winners lately and Dana failed to qualify for the final.
Finland 2013: Krista Siegfrids – Marry Me
Moving on to the second Nordic entry on the list, Krista Siegfrids charmed everyone with her charisma and won the second (and best, let’s be honest here lads) edition of UMK with her song Marry Me. Despite the song not being exclusively about gay marriage, Krista wanted to encourage her country to legalise gay marriage at the time and despite heavy criticism, mainly from the Turkish broadcaster, Krista and one of her backing singers gave us the first lesbian kiss on a Eurovision stage. Chinese television decided to censor the kiss at the time. Despite her powerful stage presence, Krista only managed to score 13 points in the 2013 final. At least, gay marriage in Finland has been legal since 2017!
Austria 2014: Conchita Wurst – Rise Like A Phoenix
We all know this story, don’t we? The lady with the beard, Conchita Wurst tried to represent Austria in 2012 with ‘That’s What I Am’ but lost the ticket to Tracksh… Trackshit… to a song that ended up last in the semi final in Baku. Two years later, Conchita was internally selected to represent Austria and most fans (including yours truly) rushed to the conclusion that the country will fail to qualify for the final, without even hearing the song. Us fans do get passionate about our predictions sometimes. Once ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ was released, it received positive reviews by the Eurovision community but no one knew how Europe would react to Conchita’s quirky appearance. And then the semi final happened, and we were all blown away. Against all odds, and after some backlash (I’m seeing a pattern here), Conchita managed to win the contest with a comfortable margin and spread her message of acceptance and unity.
Lithuania 2015: Vaidas & Monika – This Time
Vaidas and Monika won one of those Lithuanian national final marathons in 2015, after the broadcaster decided that the song worked better as a duet and wanted to send both to Vienna. During their performance on the Eurovision stage the song paused for a few seconds and they shared a kiss. Aww? Cringe? Your choice. No, no you remember right, Monika is a girl and Vaidas is a guy. But at the same time the two male backing singers, as well as the two female once, kiss each other briefly. You might have missed it if you blinked but this actually marked the first gay male kiss in the history of the Contest. A bit surprising that it came as late as 2015 if you ask me, but still a great effort!
Ireland 2018: Ryan O’Shaughnessy – Together
I remember a few months ago, I was listening to RTE Radio waiting for the Irish entry to come up. My first reaction to ‘Together’ was different than everyone else’s – I liked it. A lot. And then I saw the official video which was rather heartwarming and made me like the song even more. In case you don’t remember, the video featured a gay couple doing an interpretive dance around Dublin’s Temple Bar. Despite Ryan himself not being gay, he declared that he strongly believes and equality and along with his team, they decided to re-create the music video on stage. And it was adorable. Adorable I’m telling you. Ireland sailed through to the final for the first time in a while and ended up 16th. The Chinese broadcaster did not show the Irish entry during the semi final and was banned from broadcasting Eurovision again.
Surprisingly, there are no more entries on this list but I suspect that this list will continue growing in the years to come.
What are your favourites from this list? Any honourable mentions we might have missed?