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Israeli singer wins Eurovision Song Contest

by Heather Cassell

Israeli singer Netta Barzilai won this year's Eurovision contest with her song, "Toy." Photo: Agence Presse France
Israeli singer Netta Barzilai won this year's Eurovision contest with her song, "Toy." Photo: Agence Presse France  

Israel showed its pride as people flooded the streets celebrating Israeli singer Netta Barzilai's win with her song, "Toy," at the Eurovision Song Contest May 12.

The win comes just before Tel Aviv Pride on June 8.

Barzilai's female empowerment techno dance tune was composed by one of several gay songwriters at the competition this year and gained wide audience support from around the world. The song garnered 529 votes in the hotly competitive finale in Lisbon, beating out Barzilia's main competitor, a contestant from Cyprus.

Singers from Germany, Sweden, and Austria also made it into the final round of the contest.
Portugal hosted the contest this year after Salvador Sobral won in Kiev with his song, "Amar Pelos Dois" in 2017.

The win by Barzilai, 25, who is popularly known by her first name Netta, means Eurovision will be hosted in Jerusalem in 2019.

However, Israel's euphoria was only momentary. Tensions in Gaza grew Sunday as the country celebrated Jerusalem Day, which recognizes the city's unification after the 1967 war. Monday brought mass violence when Israeli soldiers and snipers threw tear gas and shot at protesters along the Israel-Palestine border to prevent them from crossing as the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem May 14. By evening, 60 Palestinians had been killed and more than 1,350 were wounded, according to the New York Times.

Jerusalem has a lot of work to do ahead of next year's Eurovision contest if the event will be a success, noted the Jerusalem Post.

For the last decade Israel has heavily promoted itself as the only gay-friendly country in the Middle East and has invited LGBT Pridegoers to attend its annual Pride parade and festival in Tel Aviv.

However, the same isn't true for Jerusalem Pride, which has been marred with violence - including the death of a teenage girl Shari Banki in 2015 - and the parade has been flanked by heavy police presence for years.

Yet, much has changed since the last time Israel won Eurovision 20 years ago when the contest's first-ever openly transgender singer, Dana International, caused a sensation taking the top honor with her song, "Diva."

The 63rd pan-continental song contest brings together singers representing 43 countries who compete for the title and the chance for their country to host the contest the following year.

The contest has launched careers of some of music's most beloved performers, such as Celine Dion and ABBA, reported NBC News.

In recent years the contest has also been a beacon for equality, with a host of openly LGBT contestants and winners. In 2014, Austrian bearded drag queen singer Conchita Wurst won, with their song, "Rise Like a Phoenix," which outraged Russian officials.

Russia didn't make it to the finals this year, but voted amid an outburst of boos, reported Gay Star News.

Russia didn't participate in Eurovision last year, but it wasn't because of the country's anti-LGBT laws, Chechnya's persecution of gays, or its outright discrimination of anything with rainbows. It was a different political issue that kept Russia from taking part.

Last year's Russian contestant Yulia Samoylova was barred by Ukraine, which was the 2017 host country, from competing in the contest due to touring Crimea in 2015. Crimea was annexed by Russia from Ukraine, becoming an autonomous republic of Russia in 2014, and tensions have been ongoing between the two countries.

Other queer sightings at the contest over the years include Serbia's Marija Serifovic's 2007 lesbian-themed performance of "Molitva" and Finnish singer Krista Siegfrid's lesbian kiss during her performance of "Marry Me" in 2013, reported NBC News.

Serifovic later came out as a lesbian. Siegfrids's performance was a protest of Finland not allowing same-sex marriage. The country legalized marriage equality the following year.
This year the contest continued its tradition of LGBT acceptance with out lesbian singer Saara Aalto of Finland. Ireland's Ryan O'Shaughnessy included a staged gay romance during one of his performances of his song, "Together."

However, Russia didn't censor the performance, nor did the country's leaders comment about the openness of LGBT contestants and themes.

This time China's Mango TV censored O'Shaughnessy's performance, along with blurring out rainbow flags and Albanian performers' tattoos. The censorship caused the European Broadcast Union, which produces the Eurovision contest, to immediately terminate its contract with the Chinese network.

"This is not in line with EBU's values of universality and inclusivity and our proud tradition of celebrating diversity through music," said a union spokesperson.

Kiev LGBT event shut down by anti-gay demonstrators
More than 20 right-wing activists shut down an LGBT event in Kiev May 10.
The event, which was open to the public and hosted in a private venue, Underhub, was also attended by representatives from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The human rights advocates were scheduled to address attendees before the disruption, reported Radio Free Europe.

The anti-gay demonstrators violently threatened the participants unless they left the venue as five police officers stood by refusing to intervene.

After the arrival of additional police, event participants were allowed to leave the venue without the meeting taking place or being arrested, according to a May 11 statement from Amnesty.

Amnesty didn't identify the anti-gay demonstrators. No group claimed responsibility for shutting down the event.

One of the venue owners ordered the organizers to cancel the event and leave the building.

"Given the police's repeated inaction over such attacks, it is no surprise that members of Ukrainian far-right groups take full advantage of their impunity - repeatedly attacking individuals and groups whose views or identity they dislike," said Denis Krivosheev, deputy director of Amnesty International's Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office, in a statement May 11.

Krivosheev referred to an estimated 30 similar attacks in recent months conducted by members of far-right groups against women's rights advocates, the LGBT community, left-wing activists, and Romany families.

In only one case were the attackers put on trial in 2017, according to the statement.

"For the authorities in Ukraine to tolerate such incidents - many of which have been violent and resulted in injuries - and fail to prosecute the perpetrators shows a shameful disregard for the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly," the Amnesty statement read.

Brazil police crack down on online hate crimes
In a massive sting throughout Brazil, police busted up a gang allegedly responsible for perpetrating hate crimes, threats, and inciting terrorism online.

Arrests were of members of Holy Men, Hombres Santos, who focused their attacks on blacks, LGBTs, and women. They allegedly spread racist and neo-Nazi rhetoric, and encouraged rape and murder. The online activities happened in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Recife, Curitiba, Santa Maria, and Vila Velha, authorities said.

One of the men arrested was Marcello Vale Silveira Mello, a systems analyst from the southern city of Curitiba, who had been arrested and charged for similar crimes during a separate operation in 2012, reported Q Costa Rica.

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell or oitwnews@gmail.com.

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