Irish PM Leo Varadkar: I talked about LGBT rights with Mike Pence
Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed he raised LGBT rights at a behind-closed-doors meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence.
In a break from political convention, media were banned from Vice President’s meeting with Mr Varadkar, who is one of just a few openly gay world leaders.
LGBT rights groups suspect that the reporting ban was put in place by the VP to avoid him being called out publicly on his anti-LGBT record.
Mr Varadkar has now spoken about how the meeting went down – though, naturally, his account of affairs is diplomatic.
He confirmed: “I did privately manage to speak to them about equality and my support for equal rights for women and the LGBT community here in America and also in Ireland.”
The leader did not recount Mr Pence’s response.
However, he said that the Vice President expressed an interest in meeting his boyfriend.
Mr Varadkar continued: “They were very well briefed.
“They knew about my personal story, they knew that my partner was living in Chicago, and they said that both Matt and I would both be welcome to visit their home in future, so I thought that was a very nice gesture.
“There are so many ifs and maybes, first of all I have to survive another year in my current office and secondly, Matt is not terribly keen to attend official functions but you never know.”
Mr Varadkar’s office were said to be furious after the Vice President’s office acted to ban the media from the meeting in a break from convention.
The leader himself criticised the ban, but added: “It allows us maybe to have a frank conversation that’s easier to have without the media present.”
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 is notorious for once suggesting that HIV prevention funding should 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.