In Vienna, there are crosswalks meant just for gay people. Some green walk-sign lights have pictures of two boy stick figures holding hands and walking with a heart between them. Others have the same with two girl stick figures. Which leads me to believe that only gay people holding hands with someone they love are allowed to cross the street there. Straight people are trapped on that block forevermore.
The walk signals were installed for the Eurovision Song Contest that was hosted here. (For the Americans out there, Eurovision is like a giant American Idol, except that each country picks one person or group to represent them and then everyone in Europe votes. It’s a big deal.) They were apparently aiming to impress the Western Europeans who would be visiting for the contest.
The previous year, an Austrian named Conchita Wurst won the contest. Conchita is a drag queen who dresses in full drag but retains a beard, which makes for a really interesting gender-subversive look. As a result, Austria came to represent openness to many. I was told about a young Russian guy who was accepted as a refugee from Russia because of his advocacy for gay rights (gay refugee status doesn’t happen very often); he said he chose to resettle in Austria after seeing Conchita on Eurovision.
That impression of Austria is somewhat misleading though. Sweden it is not. There are still some very conservative elements in large parts of rural Austria that keep the laws from being quite as progressive as they would be if Vienna alone were in charge. And the people I’ve talked to here tend to compare themselves to other countries in the west and north unfavorably, instead of seeing their advantages compared to the east and southeast.
Vienna – and Austria – is very much shaped by its history. During the Cold War Austria was technically neutral, a member of neither the Warsaw Pact nor NATO. They existed in limbo between the competing forces of West and East without really belonging to either. This in-between status could help explain how it straddles the divide of LGBT acceptance and discrimination.
But yes, Vienna tends to be an open city. Those in the city have nothing to fear most of the time – though I was told that the Russian refugee I mentioned above, in a really horrific twist, was gay-bashed after arriving in Vienna.
The nightlife is definitely present, though certainly mild when compared to somewhere like Prague. Unlike a lot of cities in the world in which the gayborhoods are diffusing, many of Vienna’s gay bars are clustered within a few blocks of each other. There’s also a really great classic European-style gay café near the bars. A little farther away, you can even find a really great little gay bookstore (with very nice employees who helped me find good resources for my research).
The laidback vibe made me, for one, feel very comfortable. Of the cities I have so far visited in Europe, I feel like Vienna would be the easiest one for me to live in.
For you aestheticists out there (I’m looking at you, gay boys), Vienna is absolutely at the top of the list of the most beautiful world cities. Most of Europe’s aesthetically-pleasing cities are pretty in large part because of geography – Paris has the Seine, Budapest has the Danube, etc. Vienna doesn’t really have that (the Danube is not at its prettiest in Vienna; it’s smaller, cemented in, and lined with graffiti).
Instead, Vienna is beautiful because of its architecture and city planning. The monumental scale of building is almost overwhelming. The many Habsburg palaces scattered throughout the city are gorgeous and meticulously manicured.
In sum, I cannot overstate my recommendation of Vienna, both as gay-friendly locale and just as a city generally. My straight readers just need to keep in mind that there may be a few places where they’re not allowed to cross the street. Welcome to the world of discrimination based upon sexual orientation. Sucks don’t it?