Media banned from Mike Pence’s meeting with gay Irish PM Leo Varadkar
A media ban has been put in place for a meeting between the USA’s notoriously anti-LGBT Vice President Mike Pence and Ireland’s PM Leo Varadkar.
Varadkar, who took office as Ireland’s Taoiseach (prime minister) last year, is one of the few openly gay world leaders.
He will come face-to-face this week with US Vice President Mike Pence this week, on a traditional visit to America for St Patrick’s Day.
The meeting is likely to be pretty explosive, given Pence’s avowedly anti-LGBT beliefs and voting record, and Varadkar’s promise to raise equal rights at the meeting.
In a decision that has raised eyebrows ahead of the meeting, press have been barred from covering the event – with no public comments between the two leaders or joint press conference, which would be conventional.
According to the Irish Independent, the decision to bar the media “was taken by the Vice President’s Office”.
Sources within the Irish Government told the outlet they were “not happy” with the decision, blaming Pence’s office for the obstruction.
Varadkar previously said he would raise LGBT rights with Pence.
He said: “What I intend to say is that for the vast majority of people around the world including people from gay lesbian transgender backgrounds, we have always seen America as a beacon of freedom.
“This is the land of the free, the home of the brave. This is where the LGBT rights movement began.
“It is really tough to see a country that is built on freedom, and built on individual freedom somehow not being a world leader in that space anymore.
“I actually think on this issue the majority of American people would agree with what I have to say, even if the administration doesn’t.”
Speaking in Ireland’s Parliament last week, Mr Vadadkar said: “We will hold a bilateral meeting as part of that visit. President Trump is the head of Government of the United States, I am head of Government of Ireland and we are two countries which have very strong links.
“They are cultural – they run in our blood, most of us have American family and many Americans have Irish family – and they are economic. They are extremely important and I want to maintain and strengthen them. They will outlast any president or Taoiseach and it is important that we see everything through that perspective.
“There are many of Donald Trump’s policies with which I do not agree… I believe very strongly in individual freedom, which encompasses women’s right and the rights of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.”
A hardline evangelical who has not supported a single LGBT reform across nearly two decades in politics, VP Pence has one of the worst records on equality of any US leader since Ronald Reagan.
Pence previously suggested that HIV prevention funding be drained in order to fund state-sponsored ‘gay cure’ therapy.
On a 2000 Congressional campaign website, he wrote: “Congress should support the reauthorization of the [HIV funding] Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organisations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviours that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behaviour.”
In Congress, he voted against hate crime laws, gay people serving in the military, and discrimination protections for LGBT people.
While serving as Governor of Indiana, Pence stirred up international outrage in 2015 when he signed Indiana’s controversial ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act’, giving businesses the right to discriminate against gay people on the grounds of religion.
Pence claimed the law was intended to “protect” organisations from having to provide services for same-sex weddings, saying: “I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier [Indiana citizen] of every faith.
“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack.”
He appeared unable to answer when asked whether it should be legal to fire people because of their sexuality.
In a clip, Pence was asked: “Yes or no: do you believe gay and transgender people should be able to be fired from their jobs just for that reason only?”
After an awkward ten-second silence, Pence attempted to stall, responding: “It’s a great privilege to be your Governor.”
Fudging a response, he said: “My position as I expressed in the state of the State address is that we are a state with a constitution, and as you know… that constitution has very strong safeguards for freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.”
During the Presidential campaign, Pence backed plans to roll back Barack Obama’s executive protections on LGBT rights, so that “the transgender bathroom issue can be resolved with common sense at the local level”.
He said: “This is such an example of an administration that seems to have… there’s no area of our lives too small for them to want to regulate, no aspect of our constitution too large for them to ignore.
“Donald Trump and I both believe these questions can be resolved with common sense at the local level.”
“These issues are resolved in the state of Indiana whenever they come up, and they should be resolved, for the safety and well-being of our children first and foremost, their privacy and rights, and with common sense. Donald Trump and I simply believe all of these issues are best resolved at the state level, by communities.”
He added: “Washington has no business intruding on the operation of our local schools. It’s just one more example of the heavy hand of this administration, and Donald Trump and I will stand by that common-sense people that when it comes to our kids, and the operation of our schools, those decisions should be made at the local level.
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“Washington DC has no business imposing its bill and its values on communities around the nation.”
Decades of proof have not stopped Pence from attempting to rewrite his deeply anti-LGBT record, however.
He abruptly started denying his support for gay cure therapy in December 2016, one month before he was sworn in as Vice President – despite never once trying to correct public reports about his well-known views in the 16 years beforehand.
Pence is reported to be behind many of the anti-LGBT actions taken by the Trump administration, supporting Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ bid to roll back anti-discrimination protections for gay people.