Irish LGBTI advocates have hailed the election of Ireland’s first ever openly gay Prime Minister.
Leo Varadkar was elected leader of governing conservative party Fine Gael by colleagues, party members and local councillors on June 2, replacing predecessor Enda Kenny who in May announced he was stepping down.
“If my election today shows anything, it is that prejudice has no hold in this Republic,” the 38-year-old said to applause at Mansion House in Dublin, where Ireland’s parliament sits.
“I know when my father travelled 5,000 miles to build a new home in Ireland, I doubt that he ever dreamed that one day his son would grow up to be its leader and despite his differences, his son would be judged by his actions not his origins or his identity.
“Every proud parent in Ireland today can dream big dreams for their children.”
Varadkar is expected to be sworn in as prime minister at the next parliamentary sitting on June 13.
Brian Finnegan, editor of Dublin publication Gay Community News, told The Guardian he thought it was significant the focus during the election was on Varadkar’s policies, and not his sexual orientation.
“It is a sign of how much Ireland has changed and moved on that no one really cares if he is gay here,” he said.
“Irish politicians were among the last sectors of our society to come out of the closet but now at least we’ve got one gay man and a lesbian, Catherine Zappone, both in the cabinet.
“That would have been unthinkable perhaps even 10 years ago.”
Moninne Griffith, executive director of BeLonG To Youth Services said in a statement it was “historic day” for the country’s LGBTI community.
“This is a huge step forward for Ireland and we applaud the fact that this political race focused on policy and the issues, and not sexual orientation,” Griffith said.
“We are delighted that the new leader of Fine Gael is a gay man, and now a role model for the youth who use our services across the country.
“There is no doubt there has been a huge change in Ireland since the marriage equality referendum. But we have to be realistic and remember that there are many thousands of LGBT+ young people who continue to face harassment and bullying because of their sexual orientation, gender identification and gender expression.
“We look forward to working with the presumptive [prime minister] on improving their lives and wellbeing.”
In 2015, Varadkar was praised for coming out as gay and spoke passionately for the “yes” campaign in the country’s successful referendum on marriage equality that year.
“This is not a Bill about ‘gay marriage,’ it is about ‘equal marriage’. It is not about weakening one of the strongest institutions in society, it is about strengthening it by making it inclusive and for everyone,” he said at the time.
(Photo by William Murphy via Flickr)