Out in the World: LGBTQ news from Europe and Asia

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EUROVISION

Nemo speaks to reporters after they won the annual Eurovision song contest in Malmö, Sweden, on May 11, 2024. (YouTube screenshot)

Swiss singer Nemo won the Eurovision Song Contest with their operatic pop-rap song “The Code” about their journey to accepting their nonbinary identity. 

“I went to hell and back, to find myself on track, I broke the code,” Nemo sang in the chorus of their winning song.

Dressed in a frilly pink blouse and miniskirt, Nemo dazzled the audience at the Malmö Arena in Sweden, home to last year’s winner, Loreen.

Nemo’s win is the first win for Switzerland since Canadian singer Celine Dion competed under the Swiss flag in 1988.

The Eurovision Song Contest is an annual competition held by the European Broadcasting Union since 1956, in which representatives of all member states present original songs. The entrants are voted upon by a panel of judges and by viewing audiences, who award points to their 10 favorite performances. 

Over the years, the competition has become well-known as a camp spectacle and a favorite event for the European LGBTQ community, with many high-profile queer competitors and winners, including Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst, who returned to this year’s show to perform a tribute to ABBA, who won the competition for Sweden with the song “Waterloo” in 1974.

This year’s UK entrant was nonbinary performer Olly Alexander, formerly of the band Years & Years. Their song “Dizzy,” a homoerotic pop-dance track that featured a quartet of dancing boxers, finished in 18th place with only 46 points, after receiving no points from the voting audience.

This year’s competition was not without controversy. 

The venue was met with a large protest demanding that Israel, which has competed in Eurovision since 1973, be removed from the competition due to the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip. Additional security measures were put in place for the competition

Israel’s entrant, Edan Golan, had been a favorite early in the competition, but her song “Hurricane” finished fifth. The song had also drawn controversy, and Golan was ordered to change the title and lyrics by the EBU from “October Rain” due to its references to the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. 

Golan travelled with agents of the Israeli Security Agency Shin Bet after death threats were made on her social media. 

Additionally, Dutch performer Joost Klein was disqualified ahead of the final competition after an alleged altercation with a female production staffer that has led to a police investigation.

UNITED KINGDOM

Actor Ian Gelder is best known for his role as Kevan Lannister in the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” (YouTube screenshot)

Actor Ian Gelder, best known for his role as Kevan Lannister in the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” has passed away at age 74, five months after he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

Gelder’s husband, Ben Daniels, announced his passing in a post on Instagram on Tuesday.

“It is with huge, huge sadness and a heavy heart broken into a million pieces that I’m leaving this post to announce the passing of my darling husband and life partner Ian Gelder,” Daniels wrote in the caption of a photo taken of the couple at Christmas, shortly after Gelder’s first round of treatment for his cancer.

“He was my absolute rock and we’d been partners for more than 30 years. If we weren’t together, we spoke to each other every day. He was the kindest, most generous spirited, and loving human being. He was a wonderful, wonderful actor and everyone who worked with him was touched by his heart and light,” Daniels wrote.

Gelder was diagnosed with bile duct cancer in December. Such cancers are often not detected by health care providers until they have spread to other parts of the body. 

Gelder had a long career in film and television and on the British stage, frequently appearing in London’s West End and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. 

Among his numerous television appearances was a stint on the “Doctor Who” spinoff “Torchwood,” and the celebrated UK sitcom “Absolutely Fabulous.”

POLAND

Polish Equalities Minister Katarzyna Kotula, center, with two participants of the Equality March in Łódź, Poland. (Photo courtesy of Kotula’s Facebook page)

Declaring that she would “go to hell and make a deal with the devil” to advance the rights of Poland’s LGBTQ community, Equalities Minister Katarzyna Kotula joined the Equality March in Łódź, the country’s fourth-largest city, on May 11.

The march was the 13th edition of the event, and the first time it had been attended by a government minister. 

Last year, Poland elected a new government coalition of center-left leaning parties that have pledged to support LGBTQ rights, a sharp contrast to the right-wing, LGBTQ-hostile government that preceded them. 

Still, the government has been slow to act on its stated promises to the LGBTQ community, including a law on civil unions, a ban on hate speech, and a gender recognition act, amid squabbling from more conservative members of the coalition. 

Kotula has said that she’s waiting to introduce the civil union bill until she can get agreement from the coalition on key sticking points, including adoption rights. 

“For civil partnerships, for marriage equality, for the Gender Reconciliation Act, for dignity and human rights for the LGBT community, I will go to hell and make a pact with the devil. I promise that when we meet here next year, at least some of these demands will be implemented,” Kotula said at the march. “I will do everything to take care of your dignity and your safety.”

The organizers of the march, the Equality Factory, are calling for even greater rights, including full marriage equality, abortion and contraception rights, comprehensive sex education in schools, and facilitation of medical treatment for gender transition. 

“We are marching because words about equality cannot be thrown around. We are not a bargaining chip. We were promised something and the election promises should be fulfilled. The most important requirement to be implemented is the act on civil partnerships. This is not only about LGBTQ+ people, but also about protecting heterosexual people in relationships, because there is no such thing as cohabitation in Polish law. This should be important for all Poles,” Ida Mickiewicz-Florczak from the Equality Factory told the Polish news site Odaka.

Even if the civil partnership law passes through Parliament, it may face a veto from President Andrzej Duda of the opposition Law and Justice Party, which has vociferously opposed LGBTQ rights. So far, Duda, who will be in office until presidential elections in May 2025, has not indicated how he will act on the bill, stating he’s waiting until it is introduced to comment.

SOUTH KOREA

The 2022 Seoul Queer Culture Festival (YouTube screenshot)

The Seoul Queer Culture Festival has found a new home after two years of struggle with the city council repeated denying permits for the annual festival.

The Queer Culture Festival had been held at Seoul Plaza at City Hall ever since 2015, but last year it was denied a permit, which the conservative-leaning city council decided to give to a Christian youth concert instead. This year, the city council has announced that the plaza is being used for a outdoor library all through spring and summer, effectively blocking all event applications.

“I think Seoul city is focusing on events that only suit its taste,” Yang Sun-woo, chief organiser of the festival, told Reuters. “If Seoul cared about LGBT people, they would have understood the significance of the event.”

In response, organizers of the Queer Culture Festival have decided this year’s edition will take place on a several blocks in downtown Seoul, which only required the permission of police, rather than city council.

The festival, which takes place over two weeks in June, kicks off with a parade on June 1 and will feature a queer film festival, live performances, and 60 booths for vendors and interactive events.

For its part, Seoul City Council denies that anti-LGBTQ discrimination played a part in its decision to twice deny permits for the event. 

The city government said it is “always listening to voices and providing necessary support to protect human rights of LGBTQ people as members of society,” in a statement.

The Queer Culture Festival was also denied a permit by the Seoul History Museum.

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul will also support the event, as it has in previous years.

“As in past years, embassy representatives will join in Pride events worldwide, including here in the Republic of Korea, to raise awareness of the challenges faced by LGBTQI+ individuals,” the embassy told Reuters in a statement.

AUSTRALIA

Cumberland (New South Wales) City Council building (Photo courtesy of the Cumberland government)

Cumberland in New South Wales drew international headlines this week after its city council voted 6-5 to ban books on same-sex parenting from local libraries. Four council members were not present for the May 1 vote.

The motion amends the council’s library strategy to order “that council take immediate action to rid same sex parents books/materials in council’s library service.”

The move from the council, which represents around 250,000 people in the western suburbs of Sydney, was swiftly condemned by residents, LGBTQ leaders, and representatives of the state government.

New South Wales Attorney General Michael Daley has referred the motion to the state’s Anti-Discrimination Board for advice, while Arts Minister John Graham has warned the council that the new policy directive puts state library funding for the council in jeopardy, as it would breach public library guidelines. He’s asked council to reconsider the ban.

“It’s a terrible message to send, to have this councilor importing this US culture war into our country and playing it out on the shelves of the local library,” Graham said on a morning television show. “I think the community expectations are clear — the local councilor should be coming around to pick up their bin, not telling them what to read.”

Cumberland’s local council is dominated by the relatively LGBTQ-friendly Australian Labor Party, but the motion from Our Local Government Party Councilor Steve Christou carried with support from Liberal-Party-affiliated Independents and a single vote from a Labor councilor, who has since been condemned by the party.

The move comes just a few months after the same council voted to ban drag queen storytime events at local libraries.

Christou says the motion was inspired after he received complaints from constituents who saw the book “Same-Sex Parents” by Holly Duhig on display in the children’s section of a library. The book explores what it’s like to have two moms or two dads from a child’s perspective.

During the debate on the motion, Christou alleged that the book “sexualized” children and repeated dog-whistle allegations against queer people and parents.

“We’re going to make it clear tonight that … these kind of books, same-sex parents books, don’t find their way to our kids,” Christou said, according to the Guardian. “Our kids shouldn’t be sexualized.”

Christou said the proposed amendment was “for the protection and safety of our children.”

“Hands off our kids,” he repeated.

Christou has said the amendment was demanded by his community, which he says is a “very religious community,” despite the fact that a petition against the amendment garnered more than 10,000 signatures in 24 hours.

“This community is a very religious community, a very family-orientated community.

“They don’t want such controversial issues going against their beliefs indoctrinated to their libraries. This is not Marrickville or Newtown, this is Cumberland City Council.”

The petition was launched by a Cumberland area grandmother to what she describes as a “rainbow family” Caroline Staples. Staples will present her petition to the council on May 15. 

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