U.N.'s Ban praises Conchita Wurst's gay rights fight

Austrian Eurovison Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst (L) meets United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the U.N. headquarters in Vienna November 3, 2014. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

VIENNA (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hosted bearded Eurovision drag queen Conchita Wurst on Monday and praised the gay singer's fight against discrimination and intolerance. Wurst, whose real name is Tom Neuwirth, won the 2014 song contest for Austria in May. Ban said she had turned the event, often derided for its kitsch performances, into a "moment of human rights education" fighting for diversity and tolerance. The entertainer, sporting a demure dress and black high heels along with the trademark beard, shook hands and joked with Ban and sang for hundreds of cheering officials and diplomats at the United Nations complex in Vienna. "This year I extended benefits to same-sex partners of U.N. staff members... Discrimination has no place in the United Nations," Ban said to applause from officials, dozens of whom crowded round to get a picture with or autograph from Wurst. "When I heard that she won this Eurovision song contest I immediately knew that she was a star of the world," Ban said. Wurst returned home to a heroine's welcome after her song contest victory before a TV audience of about 180 million in 45 countries. At the time, she said: "I share the opinion that this was not a victory just for me but for the people who believe in a future that works without discrimination and is based on tolerance and respect. This transcends borders." But her victory was condemned by some social conservatives as promoting gay rights. A confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West of trying to impose decadent values on other countries, saying Wurst symbolised its "ethno-fascism". Wurst, addressing Ban and U.N. officials on Monday, again urged tolerance. "You just can be respected if you respect others," she said. Speaking about benefits for same-sex partners of U.N. staff members, Ban briefly listed parental leave. U.N. spokespeople in Vienna were not immediately available to give full details. (Reporting By Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Janet Lawrence)