- 09 Jun 22
"I don’t like the idea that people ‘ought’ to have a particular political philosophy or have particular political opinions because they are brown, or white, or female or gay," the current Tánaiste tells Hot Press in our new LGBTQ+ and Longitude special issue. Leo Varadkar describes his childhood, entering politics as a gay man and son of an immigrant, Priti Patel's migration policies and Ukraine.
In the new issue of Hot Press, Leo Varadkar delves into his childhood as the only person of colour in his West Dublin class, the experience of becoming one of the first openly gay prime ministers in the world and comments on the future of equality in an increasingly diverse Ireland.
When the Dublin TD became became Taoiseach in June 2017, he was among the first "out" prime ministers in the world. His father was a Hindu immigrant from India, while his mother was an Irish Catholic - which only added to his singular status as an Irish political leader.
"I was different. I was the only person of colour in my class in national school," the Tánaiste tells Hot Press in an exclusive new feature. "West Dublin is probably one of the most diverse places in the country now. It was very different in the 1980s. A bit like how Barack Obama put it, ‘I was the tall, dark kid with a funny name’. Generally, young children want to fit in and be just like their peers. It’s only when you get older that you appreciate the benefit of being an individual and being different."
Having now served as Tánaiste, and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Fine Gael leader also touches on his views relating to Priti Patel and immigration, open borders and the Ukraine crisis in our brand new Pride issue and Frontlines LGBTQ+ special.
"I think the deal the United Kingdom has done to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is disgusting," Varadkar remarks. "So, I am no fan of Ms Patel though I have never met her. I think a lot of people in the United Kingdom and indeed many other countries believe that they need tougher controls on immigration and greater control of their borders.
"I do make a distinction though between people who come here legally and contribute to our society and those who come here illegally and seek to gain status through subterfuge or falsehood," the 43-year-old adds.
He continues by touching on the topic of equality for transgender people, who have yet to receive healthcare in this country and are forced to go abroad for any surgical treatments. Waiting lists for endocrinologists and psychologists often exceed three years, and obtaining access to hormones is increasingly difficult. The identity of those who choose to transition is far too frequently questioned by doctors and society alike.
"It’s very difficult to be trans," he concedes. "The gender recognition legislation we introduced in the FG-Labour Government was a huge step forward and health services for trans people are slowly improving. But it is extraordinarily difficult to be trans in Ireland today and I think they are extraordinarily brave. I think they are probably where gay men were 20 years ago, in terms of the pathway to equality and acceptance."
He has plenty of thoughts to add about the future of diversity and equality in Ireland, which has seen a rise in homophobic attacks in the last few months alone.
"I'd like to see us press ahead on gender parity. We made great strides, but there is much more to do, ranging from modernising some parts of our constitution to closing the gender pay gap, as well as equal representation in parliament and the boardroom. We have plans to modernise our laws on hate crimes. We need to do more for the trans community. We need to improve sexual health services and fight the epidemic of gender-based and sexual violence."
Read the full interview with Leo Varadkar in our June Pride issue of Hot Press.