As the Eurovision Song Contest nears Azerbaijan has accused its southern neighbour Iran of “slander” for rumours over a gay pride march.

Azerbaijan won the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest in Dusseldorf, Germany, scoring 221 points for the song Running Scared performed by Ell and Nikki. As winners Azerbaijan automatically won the right to host the competition although in the past there have been casers where the winning country has declined to host – usually because of the costs involved of doing so.

Azerbaijan though has agreed to host the competition which will take place this Saturday in the capital city Baku. Just days before the competition is due to take place though Azerbaijan has accused its neighbour Iran of “slander” over claims that a gay pride march would take place in the country to coincide with the Eurovision Song Contest.

The song contest has a large gay following but Azerbaijan is seemingly keen to distance itself from the LGBT association with the competition. Ali Hasanov, a senior presidential administration official, told addressed the Iranian claims in a press conference telling reporters “They are making statements about something that does not exist. We are holding Eurovision, not a gay parade…..There is no word in the Azerbaijani language for a gay parade, unlike in their language”

Azerbaijan decriminalised homosexuality in 2001 but the LGBT community in the country still faces discrimination. While the republic is a secular country the majority of its people are Muslim. There were concerns when Azerbaijan won Eurovision last year over the safety of LGBT fans who wished to travel to the country for this year’s competition. Azerbaijan prides itself on being one of the most secular and tolerant Islamic societies.  Iran by comparison has outlawed homosexuality and is known to execute its citizens for committing homosexual acts. Earlier this month four men were reportedly sentenced to death in Iran for allegedly committing homosexual acts.

The Eurovision Song Contest will air on BBC One at 8pm on Saturday.

[Written by Martha Kirkpatrick, LGBT editor]

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