Austrian bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst won the 59th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday with a James Bond-inspired entry that had unleashed a wave of protests in eastern Europe before the competition.
The power ballad, Rise Like a Phoenix, helped Wurst — the alter ego of 25-year-old Thomas Neuwirth — secure Austria’s second victory in the competition with 290 points. The country also won in 1966.
“This is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom,” a tearful Wurst said as he accepted the trophy from Denmark’s Emmelie de Forrest, who won the contest last year.
Pushing the boundaries of gender identity is nothing new at Europe’s annual song contest, an extravaganza known for its eclectic, sometimes unlistenable lineup of techno beats, love songs and pop tunes.
The winner in 1998 was Israel’s Dana International, who had male-to-female gender reassignment surgery several years before competing.
Wurst faced protests before the competition, highlighting a rift between Europe’s progressive liberal side and the traditional values of Russia and some other nations taking part.
Amid growing tensions over the Ukraine crisis, some in Eastern Europe have blasted Wurst as an example of the West’s decadence.
Activists in Belarus had even urged the country’s state television to bypass the live broadcasting rules by the organizers and edit the Austrian entry out of its Eurovision transmission.
After the victory, Wurst was asked if he had anything to say to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who introduced a law last year prohibiting “gay propaganda.”
“I don’t know if he is watching this now, but if so, I’ll say it: ‘We’re unstoppable,’” Wurst said.
In Vienna fans who had gathered at one of the public viewing parties chanted “Conchita” ecstatically after the victory.