Openly Gay Leo Varadkar Makes History in Ireland

by HRC Staff

Leo Varadkar is Ireland’s first openly gay head of government and, at age 38, the youngest-ever to assume the position.

Post submitted by Saurav Jung Thapa, former Associate Director, HRC Global   

Update June 14, 2017: Leo Varadkar has taken over as Ireland's new taoiseach, or prime minister, after a parliamentary vote today. He has appointed his rival Simon Coveney from the ruling Fine Gael party as his deputy. Varadkar is perceived as a liberal leader because of his youth, sexuality and mixed ethnicity, even though his party is center-right in its political orientation. 

Leo Varadkar made history today when he was elected as the leader of Fine Gael, the largest party in Ireland's ruling coalition. This positions him to be the first openly gay Taoiseach, or prime minister. He will be Ireland’s first openly gay head of government and, at age 38, the youngest-ever to assume the position.

Varadkar will be the fourth-ever openly LGBTQ head of government in the world and the second one currently in power, alongside Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel.

Additionally, Varadkar, whose father is an Indian immigrant and mother is Irish, will also be the country’s first-ever ethnic minority prime minister.

A member of the ruling Fine Gael party, a center-right party with fiscally conservative positions, Varadkar is currently Minister of Social Protection. He was first elected to parliament at age 27 and was health minister when he publicly came out as gay and actively campaigned for marriage equality in the run up to the historic May 2015 referendum that ushered in marriage equality in Ireland.

The referendum made Ireland the first country in the world to achieve marriage equality through a popular vote and the 18th country in the world with full marriage equality. Same-sex marriages began in November the same year.

The arrival of marriage equality represented a sea change in attitudes in a country that only decriminalized same-sex relations in 1993 and permitted divorces for different-sex couples in 1995.

HRC partnered with the YES Equality coalition in advance of the May 2015 referendum to help ensure a win at the ballot box. HRC staff met Irish advocates to share best practices and were on the ground in Ireland during the successful referendum.

Varadkar has drawn favorable comparisons to leaders such as Justin Trudeau in Canada and Emmanuel Macron in France who represent a generational shift in Western politics. The openness and social liberalism of these leaders stand in stark contrast to the divisive brand of politics practiced by the likes of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

HRC extends warm congratulations to Leo Varadkar on his election as the leader of the Fine Gael party. His likely elevation to the prime ministership comes a week after the arrival of marriage equality in Taiwan, a first in Asia. Despite the progress in Ireland and Taiwan, the world continues to witness ongoing atrocities and violence against LGBTQ people in places such as Bangladesh, Chechnya and Indonesia.

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