Ministers, TDs, and campaign groups praise Leo Varadkar’s courage

Cabinet colleagues, opposition TDs, and public figures have praised Health Minister Leo Varadkar for openly declaring he is gay.

In what is being viewed as a watershed moment in Irish politics, the announcement was also welcomed as giving support to men who may fear openly revealing their sexuality.

Mr Varadkar’s announcement was welcomed by gay rights groups and marriage equality campaigners and others on Twitter and social networking websites

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said: “Well done Leo, honest and upfront as always,” while Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said he wished him “the very best for future happiness in life”.

Many colleagues praised him for his courage in being Ireland’s first openly gay cabinet minister.

Speaking on RTÉ radio One, Mr Varadkar, who also turned 36 yesterday, said the decision to announce his sexual orientation was partly influenced by upcoming legislation he would have a decision in, so people knew he was being “honest”.

On the marriage equality referendum, he said: “I want to be an equal citizen in my own country.” He said he was not in a relationship and “far away” from such a partnership himself.

Mr Varadkar also said he made the decision to publicly talk about his sexuality as, with a year left in the Coalition government, he feared he would always regret it if he did not.

Campaign group Marriage Equality said his announcement was good for the referendum, due to be held in May, on whether or not there should be same-sex marriage in Ireland.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said his coming out in public may help young men who have sexual identity issues or who are discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

Former minister Lucinda Creighton, a friend of Mr Varadkar’s, said: “Even in 2015, it’s hard to come out. Especially on national radio. Well done Leo.”

Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, the only other party TD to declare being gay, tweeted: “Very proud of Leo. Glad I’m not the only gay in the village.”

He later told the Irish Examiner: “He’s sending out a powerful statement that all people can reach a full potential in their lives. You can be a cabinet minister and whatever you want to be in an inclusive society.

“He’s offered hope and shown leadership and inspired many people by what he’s done.”

Activist Rory O’Neill, who also goes by the drag name Panti Bliss, said it was an important day for gay rights.

“It’d be great if we were at the point where it didn’t matter, and politicians didn’t have to ‘come out’ … but we’re not at that point.

“We are at the point, though, where a serving minister can come out, and I hope everyone will shrug their soldiers, talk about it for a day or two, and then we’ll move on,” he said.

His emergence as Ireland’s first openly gay minister also made international headlines around the globe, with the news reported on websites in Britain, the US, and China.

‘Looking back now, I always knew’

Catherine Shanahan

THE FIRST OPENLY GAY MINISTER IN IRISH HISTORY

Looking back now, he always knew, but it is only in the past year or so that Leo Varadkar finally got his head around the fact he is gay.

So said the health minister in a candid interview on RTÉ radio where he outed himself as the first openly gay minister in Irish history.

Speaking to Miriam O’Callaghan on his 36th birthday, Mr Varadkar said: “Looking back now, I always knew, but I didn’t know in my own mind really until maybe a year or two ago. I’m not sure why that is or was, but that’s just the way it is.”

WHY HE STAYED SILENT UNTIL NOW

It was “probably the truth” to say that both his own reluctance to confront his sexuality and fear of what others might think kept him silent, but he was now at a point where he was comfortable coming forward, “where you start to care a little bit less about what people think”, Mr Varadkar said.

Friends getting married and having babies was another impetus — “I started to wonder what does the future hold for me, do I really want to be alone?” — as was the upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage where he wanted “to be honest with people” rather than running the risk of being accused of having a hidden agenda.

“All the arguments I was going to make were kinda detached,” he said. “I was going to say, you know, that it was important for the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community, that you know, gay couples should have their relationships recognised equally, and, you know, all those sorts of arguments.”

But those arguments “wouldn’t be entirely honest” because what Mr Varadkar really wanted to say was: “I’d like the referendum to pass because I’d like to be an equal citizen in my own country, the country in which I happen to be a member of government, and at the moment, I’m not.”

At any rate, Mr Varadkar didn’t believe the same-sex marriage campaign should be run by politicians at all.

“That should be a conversation people have around the dinner table with their families or friends,” he said. “Whether people realise it or not, there’s probably an LGBT person in every family and in every group of friends.”

ADDITIONAL CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

As Minister for Health, issues such as surrogacy and the ban on blood donations from gay or bisexual men had influenced his decision. “I just want people to know that whatever decisions are made on any issue, I’ll make them according to what I believe is in the public interest and my own conscience,” he said. “I won’t be allowing my own background or my own sexual orientation to dictate the decisions that I make.”

HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY

He has always been a “straight talker” he said, and was not concerned that his outspokenness would land him in trouble. And the truth was he is “a crap liar”.

“Actually, you know, we have a very educated electorate, and for better or worse, we have a very cynical electorate who see through the rubbish in the way they didn’t in the past, and the false promises and platitudes,” he said. “So I decided very early on that I would try to be honest and try to trust people with the truth. And I think that that’s definitely worked for me as a policy.

“I’m also a crap liar as well, so its probably best not to try.”

WHAT THE BOSS SAID

Mr Varadkar told the Taoiseach this weekend he is gay because he felt Enda Kenny “deserved a heads up” before the broadcast.

“He said it was my private life… that it was none of his concern and he wouldn’t be commenting on it” and that nothing would change as a result. He even asked “if I’d ever been to the Pantibar [Dublin gay bar], which is the bar he visited in the last couple of weeks and I said I hadn’t and he said ‘There you go, Varadkar, I’m ahead of you already”.

“He was really sound about it actually.”

WHAT THE MAMMY SAID

Initially she was concerned her son would be “beaten up on the street” or lose his seat, but ultimately, she just wanted him to be happy.

It was harder for his Indian father who comes from a country which is “a very conservative society still” and where “the traditional family is everything” but it did not take long for him to come around.

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE

On foot of his public declaration, a weight has been lifted from his shoulders, Mr Varadkar said, adding he would “regret it forever” if he had not done it.

What Mr Varadkar does not want is for his sexuality to define him. “I’m not a half Indian politician, or a doctor politician, or a gay politician for that matter. It’s just part of who I am,” he said. “It doesn’t define me, but it is part of my character.”

Nobody should feel they had to go public about their homosexuality, he said, just as “nobody has to come out as heterosexual”.

Ideally, he would like to get to the place “where the next generation of politicians don’t have to do an interview like this, that it’s just not a big deal”.

On the likelihood of being the first gay taoiseach, Mr Varadkar said it was more likely to be “someone who isn’t born yet” and that he did not seen himself in politics beyond the age of 51.

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