‘LGBTQ Eurovision fans need a safe zone’

As Sweden prepares to host Eurovision 2016, the City of Stockholm should offer visiting LGBTQ people a safe meeting place where they can party without worrying about their safety, argues LGBTQ rights campaigner Julle Bergenholtz from RFSL Stockholm.

'LGBTQ Eurovision fans need a safe zone'
LGBT revellers at Stockholm Pride 2015. Photo: TT/Gunnar Lundmark

The Eurovision Song Contest will be held in Stockholm in the middle of May next year. The last time it took place here was back in 2000. A lot has happened since then, both in the contest and in Europe.

The Eurovision Song Contest has been growing in both size and popularity, especially among LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) people. During this time, Europe has also developed its view on LGBTQ people, and in most cases this has resulted in improved rights and a higher level of positive visibility of the community.

However, the development has not only been positive. We at RFSL Stockholm (the Swedish Federation for Lesbian Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights) are constantly being told stories by the media and by LGBTQ people who have fled to Sweden of persecution, hate, discrimination and injustice in their home countries – only because of their sexuality, gender identity or gender expression.

In countries such as Serbia, Lithuania and Hungary it can be directly dangerous to be openly LGBTQ. In Russia there are now laws that ban ”homosexual propaganda” directed towards children and young people, which in reality has meant a prohibition against positively portraying LGBTQ people in the country.

There are a lot of things to work on in Sweden as well. A continuous high frequency of hate crimes, discrimination and exclusion is part of the explanation to why attempted suicide rates are comparatively higher among LGBTQ youth than among the general population.

During the Eurovision Song Contest, Stockholm will be filled with people from all over Europe, among them a lot of LGBTQ people. For many, the contest works as a 'free zone' and a hub for music, culture and meetings between people from all over the world. RFSL Stockholm thinks that it’s the responsibility of the City of Stockholm to give these people an opportunity to be who they are and not hide their identities from the surrounding world.

We therefore encourage the City of Stockholm to offer LGBTQ people a safe and open meeting place during the contest. It could offer parties, contacts with organizations and companies with activities directed towards LGBTQ people, and also performances and interviews with delegations from participating countries.

To realize this idea would not only strengthen Europe’s image of Stockholm as a city that welcomes people irrespective of their sexual orientation. It would also encourage future host cities of the Eurovision Song Contest to include LGBTQ people as one of their most important target groups, in order to make the experience as good as possible for everyone.

Stockholm now has a unique opportunity to set the standard for future Eurovision events and show the rest of Europe that the life, rights and opportunities of LGBTQ people are something that all countries should prioritize. We hope that the city takes this chance and that we in cooperation with each other can find forms to offer the safety and openness that all people deserve. 

Julle Bergenholtz is the vice chairman of the Swedish Federation for LGBT rights in Stockholm (RFSL Stockholm). A Swedish version of this article was originally published on Metro.


Sweden among favourites after leaping through to Eurovision final

Cornelia Jakobs, Sweden's entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, burst into tears and jumped onto presenter Mario Acampas, after shooting through to the final on Thursday night.

Sweden among favourites after leaping through to Eurovision final

Jakobs was emotional at the press conference after her victory, telling the story of her progress from an “largely unknown” indie artist to the Eurovision stage. 

“There are a lot of feelings right now in this little body, an extremely large amount of feelings that can’t really fit in, so they’re exploding,” she said, before beginning to cry. “But I’m so happy and overwhelmed by all the support I’ve got from all these fantastic countries.” 

When the time came to pick lots for which half of the final she would appear in, she leapt onto Mario Acampas, the presenter asking questions at the press conference, wrapping her legs around his waist and clasping herself tightly to his torso. 

He then walked her over to the bowl where the lots were lying. 

“I want you to choose the second half,” she said to him. “Imagine that I have a pistol here and on the count of three I’m going to shoot you if you don’t choose.”

He refused to pick for her so she took one herself and got the second half. 

Jakobs, with her song, “Hold me closer”, was the clear favourite to go into the final, and will go through alongside Finland’s The Rasmus, and his song Jezebel, Serbia’s Konstrakta with “In corpore sano”, as well as entries from Belgium, Czechia, Azerbaijan, Poland, Estonia, Australia, and Romania. 

You can see her performance on Thursday in the video below. 

In the final, she will meet the other favourites, which include Ukraine, Italy, and the United Kingdom. 

The final will be shown on Sweden’s state broadcaster SVT at 9pm on Saturday.