Monday 18 December 2017

Eurovision 2014: Austrian bearded drag artist faces transphobic backlash for 'unnatural' lifestyle

Conchita Wurst
Conchita Wurst
The bearded drag artist, real name Tom Neuwirth, is preparing to take to the stage in Copenhagen next month with power ballad "Rise Like A Phoenix". (Photo: YouTube)

Jess Denham

Austria's Eurovision entry Conchita Wurst is facing a transphobic backlash online, with one petition calling the contest a "hotbed of sodomy".

The bearded drag artist, real name Tom Neuwirth, is preparing to take to the stage in Copenhagen next month with power ballad "Rise Like A Phoenix".

But conservative protesters in Russia, Armenia and Belarus are battling to see Wurst's performance banned.

Reuters reports that a 2013 Russian petition signed by more than 15,000 people requested the state broadcaster to remove Eurovision from its TV schedule.

"Austria will be represented in Eurovision 2014 by the transvestite contestant Conchita Wurst, who leads the lifestyle inapplicable for Russians [sic]," the All-Russian Parent Meeting petition read.

"The popular international competition that our children will be watching has become a hotbed of sodomy at the initiation of the European liberals.

"Russia is one of the only European countries that has managed to maintain normal and healthy family values based on love and mutual support between men and women."

Belarus' petition was similarly worded.

Russia has strict laws in place prohibiting "gay propaganda", which celebrities from Stephen Fry and Elton John to Ellie Goulding and Madonna have fiercely opposed.

Armenian favourite Aram MP3 has joined the anti-trans voices, claiming that his competitor's lifestyle is "not natural" and that Wurst should "eventually decide whether she is a woman or a man".

Wurst responded: "The beard is a statement to say that you can achieve anything, no matter who you are or how you look. If you have problems understanding that, then I would be happy to sit down with you and explain it to you in more detail."

Aram MP3 later apologised and insisted that his insensitive words were "a joke".

Wurst's debut Eurovision appearance will be at the second semi-final on 8 May before the grand final two days later, if successful.

Despite the recent outrage, transgender Israeli singer Dana International won in 1998 with "Diva". Then, last year, Finnish contestant Kristia Siegfrids kissed one of her female dancers during "Marry Me" in protest at her country's ban on gay marriage.

Bookmakers have placed Wurst in their top 10 contenders lists, making the 25-year-old one of the favourites.

"My stance is that I fight for something positive rather than against something negative," Wurst told Radio Free Europe. "I was always an outsider and I was confronted with discrimination. I don't want this to happen to the next generation."

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