Taoiseach Leo Varadkar — Photo: Annika Haas (EU2017EE) / Flickr
Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said gay people should not be judged by their sexual orientation in a pointed speech delivered in front of Vice President Mike Pence, reports the Daily Mail.
Varadkar, who is one of only three openly gay world leaders, and his partner, Matt Barrett, are visiting Washington, D.C. at the invitation of President Trump to mark the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday. The first stop on their tour was a breakfast the vice president’s residence, on the grounds of the Naval Observatory, where they met with Pence, Pence’s sister, Anne Pence Poynter, and other dignitaries.
In the speech, Varadkar, the son of an Indian immigrant, said he was fascinated by American politics, which inspired him to run for office and “drive change.”
“I knew at the time that I lived in a country where, if I tried to be myself at the time, it would have ended up breaking laws, but today that is all changed,” Varadkar said. “I stand here leader of my country, flawed and human but judged by my political actions and not by my sexual orientation, my skin tone, gender or religious beliefs.
“I don’t believe my country is the only one in the world where this story is possible. It’s found in every country were freedom and liberty are cherished,” he added. “We are, after all, all God’s children. And that’s true of the United States as well, the land of hope, brave and free.”
Varadkar’s comments were interpreted by critics of the Trump administration as a rebuke of Pence, who became known for his conservative Christian beliefs opposing homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and the expansion of LGBTQ rights or protections in both employment and the nation’s hate crime laws when he served as a U.S. congressman.
Pence has also been criticized for allegedly supporting conversion therapy — a charge that his office continues to deny to this day — and for his decision, as Indiana’s governor, to sign the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allowed businesses to refuse service to people if doing so would violate their religious conscience. After intense criticism and financial backlash from major companies, Pence later signed a law clarifying that the bill was not intended to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
Pence’s wife, Karen, who came under scrutiny earlier this year after accepting a job at a private school that bars openly gay students and staff and threatens them with expulsion is they engage in “homosexual or lesbian activity,” was not present because she is in Abu Dhabi attending the Special Olympics.
Photo: Mike Pence. Credit: Official portrait.
Later in the day, Varadkar and Barrett were invited to a bipartisan luncheon on Capitol Hill with President Trump and congressional leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
They then met with Trump and First Lady Melania Trump at the White House for the traditional St. Patrick’s Day shamrock ceremony and a reception — making them the first openly gay foreign leader and unmarried same-sex partner to be invited to the White House.
On social media, Varadkar’s comments at the breakfast with Pence were met with glee by LGBTQ activists and opponents of the Trump administration.
“That special day when Leo Varadkar—Ireland’s young, openly gay, biracial son of an Indian immigrant—prime minister brings his partner to a meeting with Pence. I hope they take many pictures,” wrote one Twitter user.
“I know next to nothing about Leo Varadkar but I LOVE that he took his boyfriend to meet Mike Pence. Look how uncomfortable that homophobe looks,” wrote another.
But some questioned whether supporters of the vice president would just use the meeting to argue that Pence is not anti-LGBTQ.
“idk if the whole ‘leo varadkar stands up to mike pence by bringing his partner to dinner’ thing is It when the whole thing will prob just be used by fascists to prove that he isn’t a homophobe,” a third Twitter user wrote.
Almost immediately, some did just that, accusing liberals of trying to smear the vice president.
“A photographer just caught Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar leaving so-called “anti-gay” VIP Mike Pence’s home. Taoiseach is gay. He brought his partner. Can we put an end to this failed liberal narrative now?! Mike Pence IS a decent guy,” wrote Twitter user Mark Webster.
Despite what some saw as pointed remarks in Varadkar’s speech, both the prime minister and Pence remained cordial and polite with one another throughout their encounter.
On his Twitter account, Varadkar thanked Pence for inviting him to his home and for the “warm reception” he and Barrett received.
Pence was a gracious host, telling Varadkar that he is planning to visit Ireland with his mother, Nancy, in the future.
“I am happy to report to the Taoiseach that I have spoken to mom, first generation Irish-American and mother-of-nine, and she has confirmed that she will travel with us to Ireland and we are making plans to return to my grandfather’s homestead as we speak,” Pence said.
Varadkar returned the sentiment, telling the vice president: “I really hope you will be able to accept my invitation to Ireland very soon and I can guarantee you a very warm welcome is waiting for you, especially in County Sligo and County Clare from where your forebears come. And you absolutely must bring your mother.”