On Tuesday evening, the Italian hosts for the Eurovision Song Contest semifinal broadcast included Cristiano Malgioglio, a songwriter and popular television personality also known for his outlandish couture, who riffed on his love life. Speaking of the five countries that automatically get into the final — Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Britain — he quipped, “I have a boyfriend in every nation.” He was a host last year, too.
Eurovision has always “had a large L.G.B.T.Q. element in its fandom,” said Catherine Baker, a historian at the University of Hull who has written about the competition. After significant rulings by the European Court of Human Rights in the late 1990s and the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, which banned discrimination against people on the grounds of sexual orientation, “Europe became associated with the idea of L.G.B.T.Q. rights, and symbolically that had an impact on Eurovision, even if it wasn’t organized by the European Union,” Baker said.
The competition has also long been a trailblazer when it comes to L.G.B.T.Q. representation onstage, featuring artists like Iceland’s Paul Oscar, Israel’s Dana International and Finland’s Saara Aalto over the years.
L.G.B.T.Q. people face openly hostile environments in several European countries, including Poland, Hungary and Russia. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the powerful head of the Russian Orthodox Church, recently justified Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by claiming that it was part of a struggle against ideals imposed by liberal foreigners that included gay pride parades.
Franco Grillini, a prominent Italian L.G.B.T.Q. rights activist, said a song like “Brividi” would once have been “unimaginable” at a festival that normally has Italians glued to their television screens.
In the past, homosexuality could also hurt a musical career in Italy, he said, citing the case of Umberto Bindi, a talented, gay singer-songwriter who caused a scandal in Sanremo in 1961 by wearing a pinkie ring (then a presumed sign of homosexuality). He never got the recognition he deserved because “he was brutally discriminated” against, Grillini said.