Varadkar must use US trip to speak on LGBT rights

When Leo Varadkar sits down with Donald Trump in the White House today he either can smile and nod or he can take the opportunity to raise important but difficult issues such as LGBT rights.

While the Taoiseach has enjoyed a successful State-side trip so far — bumping into Arnold Schwarzenegger, visiting the site of JFK’s assassination, and thanking the Choctaw Native Americans for their donations during the Great Famine — he has failed to tackle the thorny issue of marriage equality and other gay rights.

In fact, he remained mute on the issue when meeting staunchly conservative governors during his tour of Texas and Oklahoma.

When he does meet President Trump he will not have his partner Matthew Barrett by his side.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach said Mr Varadkar had made it clear at the start of his term that he would not be accompanied to international functions; however, there have been a few exceptions, including the Montreal Pride parade where both men marched alongside Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.

In Washington yesterday, he indicated that he will bring up LGBT rights with US Vice President Mike Pence, who is known for his conservative view on gay marriage — but only if he gets the opportunity.

“I’m told Vice President Pence is not a supporter of conversion therapy even though some people have alleged he is. I’m going to meet him over breakfast — so if I have the opportunity I’ll certainly be mentioning the wider issue of equal rights and freedoms for LGBT.”

Mr Varadkar shied away from mentioning anything when he met governor of Texas Greg Abbott during his first engagement in the US. The Republican governor has sought to ban transgender people from using the bathrooms of their choice.

Speaking out on LGBT rights in front of receptive audiences is the easy way out. And while a few in the Library of Congress audience on Tuesday night did not clap when Mr Varadkar raised the lack of marriage equality in Northern Ireland, his comments were greeted with applause.

“It seems so strange for me that in Northern Ireland we have a policy in that marriage equality is not allowed, because to me any rights or freedom that the British have in Britain and the Irish have in Ireland, surely people in Northern Ireland should have as well,” he told the event.

Mr Varadkar should learn from his predecessor Enda Kenny who gained the attention of the US and international press when he urged Donald Trump to help Irish people living in the US illegally and turned his own catchphrase back on him by telling the president they just want to “make America great”.

Although little has progressed on the issue of the undocumented Irish, Mr Kenny showed Ireland is not afraid to raise difficult issues and stand up for minority groups.

Mr Varadkar should do the same.


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