Belfast Telegraph

Leo Varadkar proves gay stereotypes belong in the political past

By Eilis O'Hanlon

If he does nothing else, the new Irish leader deserves undying gratitude simply for increasing the usual narrow range of expectations imposed on gay people when it comes to picking sides in politics.

Not only is Leo Varadkar the first Taoiseach to live openly in a same-sex relationship. As a strong supporter of free market economics he's also firmly on the centre-Right politically, and, whilst personally liberal on matters such as abortion, even says that he wants his party Fine Gael to be a "warm house" for those holding more conservative views.

Expressing such attitudes has caused Varadkar to be vigorously attacked by voices on the Left throughout his political career, long before any of them knew that he was gay at all. To them, he was Ireland's answer to Margaret Thatcher, and they disliked him accordingly.

By coming out a few years ago in advance of the country's successful same-sex marriage referendum, Leo wrong-footed them all. Politically active members of the gay community were not supposed to break ranks in this way in a country where "being gay" and "being left wing" were regarded as practically synonymous.

The Taoiseach's politics are probably not something which will be mentioned much when he arrives in the north this week to take part in events to mark Belfast Pride (he can't attend Saturday's parade due to prior engagements). It's a pity, because, if they were serious about equality, gay rights activists ought to be delighted that their cause now has the backing of a great swathe of society from Left to Right and all points in between.

Varadkar is living proof that stereotypes are ridiculous. Whether it's the tight Scotsman, feckless Fenian, humourless German, lecherous Frenchman, depressed Swede, dumb blonde, or butch lesbian, labels are just ways of putting people into boxes and erasing their individuality.

Historically, this pigeonholing has been caricatured as the preserve of blustering, red-faced racists and male chauvinist pigs, and they certainly do enough of it to render the charge not entirely inaccurate; but those on the Left are guilty of exactly the same sweeping generalisations.

They would have it that to be gay inevitably means that you're a Guardian-reading Corbynista who spends the weekend going on marches and organising boycotts against Israeli goods - and if not, then there must be something wrong with you for siding with "the enemy".

The true picture has never been that simple. The Conservative Party in Britain has long enjoyed a dedicated following in the gay community, though, like other secret Tories, they may sometimes have kept their allegiance quiet for fear of being ostracised. In certain circles, being right wing is still the real love that dare not speak its name.

In a modern world that hails diversity as the ultimate social good, it makes increasingly less sense for supporters of gay rights to hush up these differences rather than trumpeting out loud that there are gay Tories as well as gay Labour supporters, and gay unionists as well as gay republicans.

As for all the gay Brexiteers, gay followers of President Trump, gay Catholic pro-lifers, even hardline gay opponents of same-sex marriage - the invitation should be the same as that issued by Varadkar: Welcome all.

Every stereotype shattered is another step closer to full equality.

It's no less bigoted to treat gay people as an homogenous group who should all think alike, or be judged accordingly, than it is to offensively assert that all black people must love fried chicken or all Scousers steal cars. Having a Taoiseach for whom being gay and being Right of centre are both vital parts of his identity is a huge advance on that long journey towards real equality.

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