Leave it to a European city to not only keep pedestrians safe, but promote all kinds of love at the same time. This weekend, Vienna, the capital city of Austria, announced that hundreds of pedestrian traffic lights will be transformed from the little men that usually grace the lights into ones that feature straight and same-sex couples hand-in-hand and with little hearts.
The city installed the traffic lights for two purposes. First, according to Austrian official Sonya Vicht, “It’s an attempt to see if road safety can be improved” with signals that are more eye-catching than your standard little red or green gender-neutral figure.
But second, and most importantly, it’s intended to broadcast that Vienna is a safe space for the LGBTQ community ahead of a big event. Vienna is hosting this year’s Eurovision Song Contest (a.k.a. American Idol meets the Olympics), which, since 1956, has pitted singers from dozens of countries against one another for one spectacular night.
The competition has launched the careers of several prominent musicians, including ABBA in 1974 and Celine Dion in 1988, but it was last year’s winner, Austrian Conchita Wurst, whose long brunette locks and full beard transformed Eurovision into the LGBTQ-friendly event it is today. Wurst, who is the drag alter ego of Tom Neuwirth, inspired all kinds of controversy last year, as well as a legion of die-hard fans.
“Sexuality and nationality are unimportant things,” Wurst said last year, “…and it also does not matter how one looks. That’s why I created this character.”
Embracing the LGBTQ community before the Eurovision event (the change also comes before the city’s HIV and AIDS Awareness Life Ball this weekend) not only signals that the city is welcoming to contestants like Wurst, but also acknowledges the legions of fans that are part of the LGBTQ community. It’s a physical manifestation of tolerance, and a vote for equal LGBTQ rights represented in every day life. And that’s pretty awesome.