Friday 22 February 2019

Lise Hand: Leo Varadkar wanted to be upfront about his sexuality so he could never be accused of having a 'hidden agenda'

Leo Varadkar with RTE broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan
Leo Varadkar with RTE broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan
Leo Varadkar has come out as gay ahead of the referendum on gay marriage
Leo Varadkar

Lise Hand

Leo Varadkar said the thought had crossed his mind.

Of course it had.

He’s a smart man who knows his political history, and he knew before he walked into the RTE studio that he was about to become the first-ever Irish government minister to come out as gay.

“It wasn’t a secret,” he told Miriam O’Callaghan. Well, perhaps it was known among the denizens of Leinster House, political colleagues and reporters, and of course among his circle of family and friends - but it would have come as startling news to the vast majority of the general public.

Read more here: 'I am a gay man,' says Leo Varadkar 

So it took genuine gumption on the part of the Health Minister to state on the national airwaves, “I am a gay man”.

As he reiterated several times during this extraordinary interview, he’s “a very private person”.

He was clearly uncomfortable at the outset as Miriam carefully steered him towards the topic of his personal life, but he made his declaration in his characteristic straight-forward fashion. Yes he is gay, but, he added,“It’s not something that defines me”.

The low-key delivery doesn’t take away from the historic nature of this simple statement.

Despite Ireland becoming a more secular country, bigotry and discrimination against LGBT people still exist. Young men and women still struggle to come out about their sexuality, and then struggle to gain acceptance from friends, family or society when they do.

Minister Leo Varadkar.
Minister Leo Varadkar.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D., left, and Leo Varadkar T.D
Health Minister Leo Varadkar (centre) with Leinster rugby star Kevin McLaughlin and RTE weather presenter Nuala Carey at the launch of ‘On the Dry’, aimed at encouraging people who have given up drink for January to pass on the proceeds to the Irish Heart Foundation. Photo: Photocall
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar TD, An Uachtaran Cumann Luthcleas Gael Liam O'Neill and Bill Kyle Chief Executive of Irish Life at the launch in Croke Park of Irish Life's €1 Million investment in the GAA Healthy Club Initiative
Minister Leo Varadkar
Minister Leo Varadkar

Read more here: 'Fair play Leo' – Minister Varadkar widely praised for public announcement over sexuality 

And it’s a subject which will occupy the country over the next few months as the campaign begins to gear up for the forthcoming referendum on same-sex marriage. This had a part to play in the timing of Leo’s announcement - he pointed out that as well as the referendum he would be dealing this year with legislation on surrogacy, and whether or not to lift or relax the ban on gay men donating blood. He wanted to be upfront about his sexuality so there could be no accusations of any “hidden agenda” behind decisions he will make.

It was fascinating interview with a very engaging character. Agree or disagree with his political stance, Leo is likeable. He’s grown up from the brash and arrogant young blueshirt who entered the Dail in 2007 into someone more thoughtful. 

And unlike far too many politicians, Leo isn’t terrified of honesty. The remarkable thing about Leo Varadkar isn’t that he’s gay, is that he believes that the correct political strategy is to tell the electorate the truth.

Read more here: Daniel McConnell: Leo Varadkar announcement is watershed moment in Irish politics 

He has a reputation for speaking the truth, even when it’s landed him in buckets of the brown stuff with either his party leader, his colleagues, the media or the voters. As he spoke to Miriam, he became more relaxed. “I’m comfortable to talk about it now, I wasn’t always,” he explained.

Leo reckoned Ireland is ready for a gay Taoiseach, but that it wouldn’t be him. A gay Taoiseach, maybe - but a gay straight-talking Taoiseach? Now that does remain to be seen.

Online Editors

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