Vasil Garvanliev promises to be an ambassador for North Macedonian LGBTQ+ people in a new interview with Attitude magazine
Photo: Martin Trajanovski / Jelmaz Dervishi

From Skopje to Chicago, London to Toronto, his musical talent has spread across international borders. But Vasil Garvanliev‘s greatest achievement is yet to come when he sings for North Macedonia at Eurovision 2021. Performing “Here I Stand” on the Rotterdam stage, Vasil will be one of the first high profile figures in North Macedonia to come out publicly as gay.

In a new interview with Attitude, the North Macedonian superstar opens up about his identity as a gay man. He’s ready to stand up for his community and be a voice for LGBTQ+ people across the Balkans.

North Macedonia: Vasil tells Attitude he will be a voice for LGBTQ+ people in the Balkans

Vasil came to terms with his sexuality whilst attending high school in Chicago, and has now been out to his close friends and family for the best part of two decades. But the former child star has struggled with staying true to his authentic self, navigating life between the US and his home in the former Yugoslav republic.

“I was born and raised in Macedonia where it is definitely not okay to be gay”, he tells Attitude‘s Will Stroude. “Every time I came back home to the Balkans, to Macedonia, you feel this need to put on a mask. I sympathise so much with everybody here that lives in fear of judgement, discrimination, injustice, bullying… As artists, we have a responsibility to speak truth — especially if I’ve tasted freedom, which I have.”

Indeed, Vasil is now ready to share his truth on an international scale. The singer’s Eurovision 2021 entry “Here I Stand” is an anthemic ballad about acceptance and freedom. And what’s more, it’s 100% Vasil. “My gut feeling said this is the right moment to share everything about myself — to literally break down all my walls and give you me as I am”, he says. “I am gay.”

Prior to last year’s contest being cancelled, Vasil was set to sing “You” in Rotterdam. The song was the subject of much discussion amongst Eurovision fans, who criticised the music video for “straight-washing” Vasil and hiding his true LGBTQ+ identity. Fans picked up on some homoerotic sexual tension between Vasil and the bartender, yet later, he is shown dancing with a woman.

But Vasil didn’t have the liberty to express his sexuality freely. “Many of my fans — my Eurovision fans — were like ‘why didn’t you do this, why didn’t you do that?’ Because I can’t, is the answer”, he explains. “Do I want to do it? Yes, I want to do it, but you have to realise I don’t have the freedom to do it.”

 

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Now, Vasil realises that with his platform he has a responsibility to be a voice for those LGBTQ+ people in North Macedonia who need it the most. “I think having last year’s experience, having this [period of] contemplation and then having this change again with an original song that I’ve written, this is why I realised the responsibility I have to speak about this.”

LGBTQ+ people living in the Balkan nations face legal and political challenges that are less common in Western states. In North Macedonia, same-sex sexual activity wasn’t legalised until 1996, and an anti-LGBTQ-discrimination bill was only passed in October 2020 after years of heated discussions and legal battles. The path to LGBTQ+ acceptance in North Macedonia is a long and challenging road, but things are starting to look hopeful. In 2019, the country held its first ever Pride parade in Skopje. The small but groundbreaking event attracted around one thousand demonstrators.

But even with his star status, Vasil experiences swathes of hatred for his identity. Upon the release of the “Here I Stand” music video, the singer received backlash for including art depicting the Bulgarian flag. In what he described to wiwibloggs as an orchestrated hate attack, Vasil received countless hostile messages on social media from North Macedonian nationalists lobbying for his removal as the country’s Eurovision 2021 act.

“It came to a point where I couldn’t physically leave the house for about two weeks”, Vasil reveals to Attitude. “The main attack was homophobia. Still to this day I wake up to messages that are not the prettiest. I do not wish this on anybody.”

However, that’s not getting in his way. These attacks make Vasil more determined than ever to be a voice for LGBTQ+ people in his country, and remain open about and public about his identity. “To all the hate, I just say thank you, because you’ve inspired me to be even stronger.”

With just two weeks until Eurovision 2021 kicks off in Rotterdam, Vasil tells Attitude that he already feels like a winner. “To me, knowing that I’m going to be representing so many different facets, so many different groups, it’s one of the most rewarding feelings”, he enthuses. “I’m giving you my naked truth, and to me there is nothing more vulnerable and more powerful than that.”

You can read Vasil’s full interview with Attitude here.

Read more North Macedonia Eurovision 2021 news here

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Heath
Heath
13 days ago

That’s legitimately awesome for him. I know from experience it os hard. Though, with all due respect, Helen Keller could have seen this coming.

Kas
Kas
13 days ago

Hahaha….

He could sold his soul to anybody just for douze points…

gurki loko
gurki loko
14 days ago

Duncan Laurence said during the semi final conference that he’s bi and STANDS FOR THINGS and two years later comes Vasil. That’s it, we already know the winner of 2021 contest.

Jofty
Jofty
13 days ago
Reply to  gurki loko

If politics must be left out if it why not sexuality? Tired of this being used as some sort of bargaining chip. “Bi” my arse (pardon my French).

Saara
Saara
14 days ago

Surprise? To quote Patty Bouvier from The Simpsons: “You could see it from space, Marge!”

Mr Vanilla Bean
Mr Vanilla Bean
14 days ago
Reply to  Saara

And frankly, I was more touched by Patty Bouvier’s coming out.

Fatima
Fatima
14 days ago

Ever been to Ahtopol, Rasmus?

Fun or ban?
Fun or ban?
14 days ago

Vasil, just bring a damn good song, and stop with all the clishee and fabrications! Tired of this big crying baby!

Alex
Alex
14 days ago

He is such a lovely and sweet guy. I don’t like his 2021 song but I applaud him for his courage! He has a great voice and i wish him the best of luck!

I really liked his 2020 entry and it’s good that he addressed the feedback he got from ESC fans about the sexual tension with the bartender (just read the comments under the youtube video) but he’s right… he is representing North Macedonia, not Norway. He got hate for that Bulgarian flag and now the homophobia. I hope he’s doing [email protected]!

NickC
NickC
14 days ago

Balkans have a terrible record in human rights, and particularly minority rights, so the poor guy will lose gigs, campaigns sponsors. ..etc. and then on top of all this, he will most likely NQ. Imagine the hate he will receive.

Fatima
Fatima
14 days ago
Reply to  NickC

I don’t see a poor guy, I see a brave guy who will have made things a little bit easier for others in his position.

Mr Vanilla Bean
Mr Vanilla Bean
14 days ago

The emperor has no clothes. Naked, indeed.

Clever1
Clever1
14 days ago

Good for him – I appreciate his openness and courage. I’m not a fan of the song and don’t expect it to do well, but I’m glad he is making the best out of a challenging situation.

Oy oy
Oy oy
14 days ago

It’s sad to see all the hate and the comments about «hidden intensions» for him coming out. What Vasil has done is very brave for someone from the Balkans. My strongest sympathy to everyone who feels they can’t live their lives as they wish. Big hugs!

Pen
Pen
14 days ago
Reply to  Oy oy

Well, Balkans are not all like that. Macedonia yes because there lives 40% albanians also albania cus they are muslims and they will probably kill u to say that u are gay loud. But in Serbia and Slovenia- there is completely normal thing, no one will do anything to you. Theres maybe older people and some men who will make comments- but nothing besides that. Serbian PM is lgbt.

Alphalpha
Alphalpha
14 days ago
Reply to  Pen

So you think its only Muslims who are homophones? I dare you to go to Russia and be out and proud.

Denis
Denis
14 days ago
Reply to  Pen

wow, spreading anti Islamic propaganda much, are we? If you think nothing will happen to you in Serbia then you are lost indeed. Just look at the time they tried to have Pride parade and the chaos that took place. Was it the feared Muslims that were to blame? Serbia is probably the worst place to be gay, the fact that PM is gay means nothing. She is a pawn used by Vucic to show EU” see we are progressive, now let us in your club”. Meanwhile she does nothing to improve the right for LGBT people.

Last edited 14 days ago by Denis
Pen
Pen
14 days ago
Reply to  Denis

I am saying facts. Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia are very open to lgbt rights. We all know at least one lgbt person and they are free to say who they are. You can not say that for muslim parts and you know that is true! You can not compare Russia and Serbia. Even though they are brotherhood countries difference in mentality is huge 🙂 all the best from montenegro!

Roodi
Roodi
14 days ago
Reply to  Pen

yes Russia Ukraine Poland Armenia Belarus are all christian countries with anti-LGBT goverments.and by the way not all muslim countries are homophobe.

NickC
NickC
14 days ago
Reply to  Pen

Serbia and Croatia open to LGBT rights? Whatever you are smoking, I want the same.

Benji
Benji
14 days ago
Reply to  NickC

Croatia is a bit more gay-friendly than Serbia.

Pen
Pen
14 days ago
Reply to  Benji

Not really. Belgrade is for sure the most tolerant city on Balkan.

Last edited 14 days ago by Pen
MTD
MTD
13 days ago
Reply to  Pen

Belgrade aside, Serbia really is a mess.

Azaad
Azaad
13 days ago
Reply to  Pen

I’m pretty sure Albania and Kosovo have more protections against LGBTQ+ discrimination in their laws than Russia…also, homophobia exists in all religions and those without faith unfortunately.

Alphalpha
Alphalpha
14 days ago

Vasil, just go away!

Roodi
Roodi
14 days ago
Reply to  Alphalpha

Homophobe

Ellen
Ellen
14 days ago

Courageous.

voix
voix
14 days ago

Out of the sudden, he mentions the word macedonia in every interview and he is victimized. Yeah ok bro, do better

Roodi
Roodi
14 days ago
Reply to  voix

Homophobe

Whoareyou?
Whoareyou?
14 days ago
Reply to  Roodi

Any arguments? Or are you just going to spit out the same thing every time you disagree?

Roodi
Roodi
13 days ago
Reply to  Whoareyou?

you need to get a life

Darren
14 days ago

He’s always looking for sympathy and playing vulnerable when he’s interviewed.
Quick someone get my tiny violin.

Respect for coming out, but c’mon man

Jonas
Jonas
14 days ago
Reply to  Darren

Is that how you would like people to help you when you experience homophobia?

Darren
14 days ago
Reply to  Jonas

It’s not just him coming out it’s everything else, this is just another thing.
He wants to be the voice for LGBTQI in the Balkans, but what he is actually doing could be quite damaging for it. Antagonising the nationists, then doing this.

Jack
Jack
14 days ago

Vasil, from Macedonia, who was born in Macedonia, when he was raised in Macedonia, it was to hard to come out in Macedonia, so now, while he lives in Macedonia, decided to come out to the Macedonian public.

Not vasil playing the gay card to stop the hate from the nationalists. Just not. This is wrong.

Last edited 14 days ago by Jack
Whoareyou?
Whoareyou?
14 days ago
Reply to  Jack

Really sad to see that an LGBT person is embracing this nationalistic approach indeed. He can do better than that, I am sure.

Jack
Jack
14 days ago
Reply to  Whoareyou?

I so agree. He even repeated the word twice to emphasize the message and shift the attention to his sexuality rather than the Bulgarian flag. Is this called…gaywashing?

Whoareyou?
Whoareyou?
14 days ago
Reply to  Jack

Pinkwashing, yeah…I don’t know, I hoped LGBT people in every country recognise and reject all this nationalistic nonsense. He is clearly under severe pressure, I guess. But he is clearly and sadly trying to make friendship with people that will never approve of him, due to his sexuality. Lost case.

Last edited 14 days ago by Whoareyou?
Jack
Jack
14 days ago
Reply to  Whoareyou?

exactly. LGBT people should be accepted without “counter measures”, if they have to stand back from their beliefs and repeat the propaganda of the nationalists to be accepted is just… desperate and wrong. Imagine if every gay guy faked he is a nationalist or football lover to become accepted…. so wrong

Last edited 14 days ago by Jack
esc1234
esc1234
14 days ago

I respect his courage to come out and wanting to raise awareness but when I read “i was born and raised in Macedonia” while months before, called the country North Macedonia and revealed that he has double citizenship made me question his intentions and the purpose of this. I understand its hurtful that many people in the country blamed him for the video clip but, there is an agenda here.

Last edited 14 days ago by esc1234
James
James
14 days ago
Reply to  esc1234

From what I’ve read about the terms from the Prespa Agreement, I recall that it technically allows people from North Macedonia to still call their country whatever they like outside of any formality that requires the use of its internationally-recognized shortform and longform name aswell as continue to call themselves “Macedonians”.

The closest to this naming convention is South Korea where their respective geographic qualifier for their nationality and for their country’s name is used occasionally, otherwise they’re “Koreans” from “Korea”.

Last edited 14 days ago by James
Whoareyou?
Whoareyou?
14 days ago
Reply to  James

The question is not if they can, but why do they chose to maintain this nationalism, considering this is a settled topic already, with a name that is respecting both sides limits.

James
James
14 days ago
Reply to  Whoareyou?

Maybe it’s a compromise where Macedonians won’t feel forced to suddenly add a qualifier if they don’t have to. The name change is only more than a year old so time is needed for the change to settle, however long that may be.

esc_fl
esc_fl
14 days ago
Reply to  James

A name change can take long to adjust; Swaziland changed its name in 2018 to eSwatini but the former name still appears on many official documents and currencies.

I also noticed that Greece’s provinces include Western, Central, and Eastern Macedonia, so I’m wondering if people didn’t know any better they might mistake North Macedonia as a Greek region? That might be another reason why Macedonians wouldn’t add the direction to the name.

Miko
14 days ago

Well, he is desperate… Aware that his song is load of crap and everybody hates it, he pulled that lgbtq card (like it wasn’t obvious) just for some pity votes…

Jonas
Jonas
14 days ago
Reply to  Miko

Homophobia is not always obvious.

Miko
14 days ago
Reply to  Jonas

I’m gay myself and I don’t have any problem hi’s gay. I’m just sick of that “media prostitution”, desperately trying to sell his song… This coming out felt so wrong, like it purpose was only to boost ratings of the crappy song

Jillian
Jillian
14 days ago

He might not have a song that gets much people behind it, but as a personality he is a real winner! Some artists spread love and acceptance while others hate and violence.

Dawid
Dawid
14 days ago
Reply to  Jillian

There’s like 1 that “spreads hate” tbh

Santa
Santa
14 days ago
Reply to  Dawid

Are… are you defending hate with those “spreads hate” words…

Jonas
Jonas
14 days ago

I want to hear Vasil sing “Being Alive” from Company.