At a summit with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, Ireland’s Leo Varadkar has called for “universal” respect for LGBT+ rights.
The Irish Taoiseach, who is one of just three openly gay world leaders, made the intervention at the EU-Arab League of Nations summit in Egypt on Monday (February 25).
Speaking to the event, Varadkar stressed the pace of change in Ireland, which has welcomed same-sex marriage and reforms on abortion despite its conservative Catholic history.
Leo Varadkar tells Arab leaders: The right to love is universal
According to the Irish Independent, Varadkar called on leaders to follow the example, adding: “[Ireland] has changed a lot in the past 10 years.
“We have become leaders in advancing equality for women and members of the LGBT community. We have legalised both same sex marriage – the right to love – and abortion – the right to choose.
“I respect that every country has its own culture, traditions and religious beliefs. However, we believe these rights are universal.”
Many of the countries represented by the Arab League criminalise homosexuality, including Egypt, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
The declaration signed by leaders at the summit included no formal reference to LGBT+ rights, though it did include a commitment to “upholding of all aspects of international human rights law [and] condemnation of all forms of incitement to hatred, xenophobia and intolerance.”
Leo Varadkar has challenged other world leaders on LGBT+ issues
Varadkar has used his platform several times to further awareness of LGBT+ issues, even raising the subject with Pope Francis during his visit to Ireland in August 2018.
In December, Varadkar said he would love to discuss equal rights with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In an interview with the Irish Independent, Varadkar said of Putin: “I have met him. I met him very briefly. I met him at the Armistice Day Events in Paris on November 11 but obviously he was speaking Russian and I was speaking English. So I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to him about [LGBT rights].
“I would like to talk to him about it.”
He added: “I have spoken to the Russian ambassador about it, who takes the view that what we are hearing in the West is exaggerated. I don’t believe that.
“So I would like to challenge [Putin] about it, and really ask him why he thinks these policies make Russia stronger, make Russia greater.”
Varadkar continued: “He is clearly someone who is the strongman, who wants to make his country powerful in the world again. I obviously don’t agree with how he is going about that.
“But I would be curious to explore with him why he thinks that discrimination against gay people is the way to make Russia wealthier or more successful or more prestigious in the world because that is definitely his world.”