RFSL, one of Sweden’s most prominent organizations for LGBT+ rights, is suggesting a “pride park” safe space in Stockholm during Eurovision season. While I’m not opposed to the idea, it could mean worse traffic issues in the city (not that hosting ESC ever meant great traffic conditions anyway). Given all the political issues and locational bias towards participants and fans, I also wouldn’t be surprised if someone (outside of RFSL) put a sign by the park excluding fans from much of Eastern Europe.
Ever since Dana International’s victory in 1998, the Eurovision Song Contest has been viewed as a haven for the LGBT+ community. It’s as normal to see a rainbow flag in the audience as it is to see other countries’ flags, and Alexander Rybak called the contest the “world’s biggest pride parade.” However, the community isn’t equal in its treatment towards participants in the contest, and the contestants are still judged by the country they represent. For an LGBT+ friendly country, the artist is usually welcomed with open arms, until a tiny incident results in negative press to reject them. For a less LGBT+ friendly country, the artist has to prove themselves to the community, though any incident is simply blamed on the conservative country’s influence.
Prior to winning Melodifestivalen 2015, Måns Zelmerlöw said (while possibly drunk) on a TV show in 2014 that LGBT+ people were “avvikelse” (deviant). Though he apologized multiple times for the incident in Sweden (and most parties accepted the apologies), the incident was dug up by the press again after his victory at Friends once the bookies claimed he would win Eurovision: How could someone singing about childhood bullying and being a hero say that LGBT+ was unnatural? The press claimed that he could be a homophobe based off the one minute of drunken speech on TV and the YouTube commenters immediately followed, claiming that they weren’t going to vote for him anymore. Even while he was in Vienna, the press kept bringing up the incident, ignoring that he had also performed at prides and hosted the 2014 QX Gaygalan. After his victory either based on the song/staging/claiming a week before the contest that he would date a guy if he woke up one day and felt attraction to guys (logic class people: that’s a conditional statement written as “q if given p”), the negative press against him suddenly disappeared outside of a few angry audience members on social media. Once again, he was viewed as a hero and an ally.
On the other side of the Iron Curtain, the non-LGBT+ press doesn’t really do anything. During the first season of X-Factor Adria (for those people in ex-Yugo countries), Željko Joksimović made openly transphobic statements at Fifi Janevska, a transgender woman, during her audition (e.g. using the term “trandža/tranny,” questioning why she used female pronouns when she used a male name in audition paperwork, then using plural “you” to refer to her, saying that “there are two of you”). He and the broadcaster Channel Pink later claimed on Twitter that no apology was necessary and that he was entitled to his own opinion. However, this incident was pretty much ignored outside of raging LGBT+ groups within Serbia with only minor coverage from international LGBT+ sites and Eurovision news sites. Despite Željko Joksimović’s participation as an artist/composer/host in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2012 (note: all after 1998), the ESC press did not dig up the incident when he re-appeared in the contest to compose Knez’s entry in 2015. Instead, the press simply noted that the ex-Yugo region was still much more conservative with gender/sexuality minority rights and chose not to bring up the incident. Both acts related to him (Macedonia (FYR) and Montenegro) didn’t have very high chances of winning the contest either anyways.
For Russia, Polina Gagarina was dealing with a double edged sword. Due to the Kremlin passing the law against “LGBT+ propaganda,” and the state-owned Channel 1 internally selecting her to sing another “ironic peace song”, she was booed simply for representing her country, even when she made it clear on social media that she herself didn’t represent the government’s policies and appeared to be an ally. The media might have enjoyed her performance, but after the 3 minutes they returned to side-eying the country’s participant, especially after she took on a lead in the voting: if Russia won the contest, the contest’s reputation of being a safe haven for LGBT+ could be damaged. Even during the performance, members of the audience silently protested by waving rainbow flags, blocking her performance on camera. At the same time, she was criticized in by members of the Russian government, as politicians in Moscow voiced concern about her posted images of her and Conchita Wurst.
If RFSL’s plan for a safe space/pride park does go through with SVT and the city of Stockholm, then the safe space cannot discriminate people for country of origin or their country’s LGBT+ unfriendly policies. Though politics and bookie statistics might mar the contest’s “neutrality,” SVT can at least try to keep most of the issues out of the city during Eurovision Week.