Let’s settle this once and for all: why do queer people love Eurovision so much?

Conchita Wurst and Olly Alexander singing

“Why does the gay community love Eurovision so much?” is a very popular question: and search term.

Anyone who has ever met a single queer person knows that for LGBTQ+ people, Eurovision night is a national holiday, a day of rest followed by an evening of celebration. Gay Christmas, if you will. But why is that?

It does make sense that the Eurovision Song Contest – with its camp, colourful and eclectic vibes – has become unabashedly synonymous with the LGBTQ+ community. However, surely that’s not the only reason?

When did the queer history of Eurovision begin? Also, why did LGBTQ+ fans flock to the song contest? Let’s take a look at the background to this iconic annual event.

Eurovision’s legion of queer fans

Eurovision has around 180 million global viewers, and contestants every year pull out the stops with bold extravagance and unashamed queerness that refuses to be toned down.

It’s basically LGBTQ+ visibility writ large, with queer contestants often singing about their experiences of, amongst other things, coming out – and those unique accounts of their experiences are then beamed into the homes of people in locations that sometimes aren’t exactly very accepting of LGBTQ+ people.

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On this night, the power of creativity flourishes with powerful assertions of self-expression and self-confidence. All of this visibility has led to Eurovision becoming a haven for LGBTQ+ people

Eurovision lovers applaud the show for its inclusivity and positivity: with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer contestants consistently met with cheers, applause and acceptance as they take to the stage.

Eurovision also engages with the social-cultural aspects of queer identity, creating a space and platform for the community can gather and celebrate themselves and each other.

Most annual competitions are linked to sports, environments that can often be heteronormative and rather treacherous for some queer people.

However, Eurovision offers the visceral and all-consuming experience of being part of a sporting fandom, following the competition closely and picking a favourite to support: but in the world of song and dance. 

Plus the nature of Eurovision, with its tense voting reveals, stage mishaps and singing scandals all create a background of intrigue, and of course there’s nothing we queers love more than the spectacle of some messy, unexpected drama!

Tickets are selling like hotcakes and, following bisexual singer Loreen’s victory in Liverpool last year, Eurovision will move to Malmö, Sweden for 2024. So when did LGBTQ+ people begin being visible at Eurovision?

Eurovision’s queer history

The song contest began in 1956 but it was not until the 1997 event that the first openly LGBTQ contestant+ contestant graced the stage, further cementing the gay community’s love of Eurovision.

Iceland’s Paul Oscar performed the song “Minn hinsti dans” (“My Final Dance”) and though he only reached 20th out of 25, Oscar’s track garnered lots of attention from gay audiences, which launched his international popularity.

Perhaps one of the most famous queer performers was Israel’s Dana International with her triumphant performance of “Diva” in 1998 when the show was hosted in Birmingham. She won the show with 172 points.

Dana International is a trans woman who came out at age 13. She appeared again on the competition in 2011, but “Diva” remains her most iconic performance. 

The Hebrew-language, uptempo party song is an ode to powerful women in history and mythology. Dana sings about Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory, Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty and love, and the Greek queen Cleopatra.

Her win was a landmark moment that saw trans identity celebrated and uplifted in the mainstream media. This also demonstrated that Eurovision has long been wayyy ahead of most standard forms of entertainment when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation. 

In 2007, the spotlight continued to be shone on queer stars. Serbia’s Marija Šerifović performed “Molitva” in a masculine tux with short hair.

Though Šerifović was not out at the time, her performance still embodied qualities of queerness by challenging traditional gender roles. Šerifović went on to come out publicly as a lesbian in 2013.

Acts like Šerifović’s also offered the stage to an alternative sense of queerness. Her performance was not in English and she was singing about specific Serbian themes which illustrated that the queer experience is not exclusive to Western European, English-speaking countries.

And of course, who can forget about Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst who won the 2014 contest? Despite varying support across Europe, Wurst was unwavering in championing gender and sexuality diversity and proved that she was more than just “that lady with the beard.”

Wurst’s performance caused quite a stir at the time. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of Russia’s Liberal Democratic party, labelled her act as an outrage.

Russia continued to participate in Eurovision until 2022 when the country was expelled from the song contest following the invasion of Ukraine

Similar calls for Israel to be banned from the competition are being raised in 2024 due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, with some Eurovision fans threatening to boycott the singing competition to protest the fact that Israel has not been barred from the event this year.

LGBTQ+ singer Olly Alexander is representing Britain at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Dua Lipa and Charli XCX collaborator Danny L Harle wrote and produced his song.

After more more than 450 queer artists, public figures and organisations signed an open letter calling on him to withdraw Alexander posted a statement (alongside several other Eurovision acts) stating: “We stand united against all forms of hate, including antisemitism and islamophobia.”

“It is important to us to stand in solidarity with the oppressed and communicate our heartfelt wish for peace, an immediate and lasting ceasefire, and the safe return of all hostages.

In his own statement on Instagram, the gay actor and singer posted that he “understands and respects” those boycotting Eurovision, but won’t do so himself. He also stated he hopes to see “an end to the atrocities we are seeing taking place in Gaza.”

So, to answer that original question: why does the gay community love Eurovision so much? Because it’s way more than just a song contest: it’s a huge queer event that holds incredible social and political importance.

The Eurovision Song Contest final takes play on 11 May 2024.