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Sunday 17 November 2019

Leo Varadkar hopes to join gay St Patrick's Day parade in US

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has come out
Health Minister Leo Varadkar has come out

Allison Bray

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said he would like to take part in a gay-friendly "inclusive" St Patrick's parade in March - if he can free up time from his busy schedule.

The 36-year-old politician made history last week after becoming Ireland's first Cabinet minister to publicly come out as a gay man.

After his announcement, Mr Varadkar was invited by the New York-based Lavender and Green Alliance to join its St Patrick's Day parade featuring people from all nationalities and sexual orientations.

Mr Varadkar said he would like to accept the invitation, but added he would not likely be able to attend due to work commitments.

He told the Sunday independent: "I received the invitation and I'm very grateful for it. I have a very busy day of meetings planned already on the Monday, so it'd probably be very difficult to attend."

The Alliance, which is based in the Irish-American stronghold in the borough of Queens, said his participation would send a strong message to organisers of the city's official event, which until this year, has banned all but a representative group of gay and lesbian activists.

However, he hasn't entirely ruled out his attendance, noting that previous TDs, including junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch, attended the same parade on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs two years ago.

"Ultimately it would be a decision for the Department of Foreign Affairs," he said.

Alliance founder and Kildare native Brendan Fay (56) said he would be delighted if Mr Varadkar would take part in the "St Pat's For All" parade which kicks off the city's St Patrick's celebrations on March 1 after the minister's landmark interview with RTE's Miriam O'Callaghan last Sunday.

His very public "coming out" has been lauded as a brave move and has prompted widespread support here and from around the globe.

"Equality is very much at the centre of being Irish," Mr Fay said. "While we'd be delighted and welcome the day if Leo Varadkar would march with an Irish LGBT banner down Fifth Avenue, we would very much welcome him to come out and march with us on March 1. His coming out was a big story here and it reflects a changed Ireland."

Meanwhile, for the first time in its 253-year-old history, organisers of the annual NYC St Patrick's Day parade are allowing a small group of LGBT activists from NBC television called OUT@NBC to take part this year.

Irish-American LGBT groups see it as a small but significant political concession, which came after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to take part in the city's official parade last year because of the ban on LGBT groups.

But Mr Fay, who co-founded the inclusive parade in 1999 after being arrested 11 times for parading without a licence, said activists will continue to fight for the right to parade with other Irish groups at the world's largest St Patrick's Day parade.

"All we want to do is march with a banner to say we're an Irish-American LGBT group. That's it," he said.

In the meantime, he said he hopes Mr Varakar will be able to attend as the Alliance continues to lobby the NYC parade's organisers for a fully inclusive parade this year.

The Alliance has already gleaned more than 100 signatures from various Irish-American arts, community and other organisations, urging parade organisers to allow LGBT groups to take part.

"In an age of equality and civil rights legislation in the US, Ireland, and around the world, we do not want to see the 2015 St Patrick's Day parade marred by division, boycotts, protests or arrests," it reads.

Sunday Independent

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