But is he the wrong kind of gay person-of-colour?

Leo Varadkar was formally elected Taoiseach on the 14th of June, 2017. In the days leading up to this event, three columnists wrote broadly similar articles about the first gay man to become leader of this country.

The columnists in question are Una Mullaly[1], Emer O’Toole[2] and Dil Wickremasinghe[3] who respectively describe themselves as being among those “whose politics are rooted in solidarity, equality and standing up for minorities”, “[who are] left leaning [and part of] progressive movements” and “who care deeply about social justice and inclusion”.

All three voice near-identical concerns about a man whose election, they acknowledge, symbolises the dramatic and rapid changes that Ireland has undergone but whose political ideology, they claim, represents a significant threat to their hopes for further social change.

Ms Mullaly describes Varadkar as being “almost comical[ly] right wing”. Ms Wickremasinghe calls him “extremely conservative and right wing” and seeks to portray Mr Varadkar as something of an Uncle Tom with respect to ethnic minorities and the LGBT community, claiming that Varadkar is “assimilated to the point that he has turned against minority groups” and that he labours under an “internalised homophobia”. Ms O’Toole accuses Varadkar of being “a cardboard cut-out neoliberal” and “intent of demonising people on welfare

And yet their characterisations of Mr Varadkar as a bigoted, regressive Thatcherite are, for the most part, unsupported. Where they do offer some support for their claims, they rely on cherry-picked quotes that are, in some cases, nearly a decade old.

Ms Wickremasinghe reminds us that, in 2010, Varadkar voiced concerns regarding the suitability of LGBT-couples for parenthood and claimed that children should have a right to a mother and a father. (I am quite convinced that he was wrong to suggest that gay couples cannot raise happy, healthy children every bit as well as straight couples. On the contrary, the evidence that they can and do is overwhelming[4].)

But, given Varadkar’s central role in promoting a Yes vote in Ireland’s 2015 marriage-equality referendum, it is remarkable that anyone should think that a 2010 quote is all that is required to discern Varadkar’s views on LGBT parents. During that referendum campaign Mr Varadkar referred directly to his 2010 quote saying “I think, like a lot of people, my views have moved on in the past five years. I want to point out though that [the 2010 quote was from] a speech in favour of civil partnership, and I called for it to go further including limited adoption rights for same sex couples. I now support full equality on the matter

Ms O’Toole quotes a 2015 radio interview in which Mr Varadkar described himself as “pro-life”. She goes on to describe him as a “disaster for Ireland’s campaign for reproductive rights”. But she ignores that in the same interview and on other previous occasions he also expressed the view that the eighth amendment was “too restrictive”.

Ms Mullaly tells us that Varadkar suggested that “unemployed immigrants should be deported”. This is flatly false. Mr Varadkar did suggest in September 2008 that unemployed migrants might be paid to go home but was very clear that such repatriation would be “entirely voluntary”. Given that, at the time, a bankrupt Irish state was slashing services and increasing taxes, it was hardly outrageous to suggest that the state would come to a voluntary and mutually-beneficial arrangement with individuals who might welcome the chance for a fresh start elsewhere.

Ms Wickremasinghe seems to reject the possibility that Mr Varadkar’s views on LGBT parents could have evolved as he claims. Ms O’Toole is content to ignore any nuance in Mr Varadkar’s position on abortion. Ms Mullaly peddles an outright distortion of Mr Varadkar’s attitudes towards immigrants. Why?

I am reminded of Christopher Hitchens’ definition of a left-wing polemicist as being someone who, having identified the worst-possible motive for something, proceeds under the assumption that they have identified the correct one. But our three columnists seem not merely unwilling to give our new Taoiseach the benefit of the doubt. They seem intent on actively tearing him down.

 

The election of a gay man as leader of a country in which homosexual acts were illegal only 25 years previously is hugely significant. That being the case, one has to ask why three people, who are themselves so heavily invested in society’s acceptance of and respect for gay people, would go to such lengths to portray Mr Varadkar as a right-wing ogre.

We can only speculate. But this is a blog – so let’s speculate (and if any of the columnists I am discussing think that it is unfair for me to make broad inferences about what they think based on a handful of isolated comments I would invite them to reflect on that unfairness next time they sit down to write a column).

My own unsupported and uncharitable opinion is that the answer probably lies in the form of identity politics to which I suspect all three columnists subscribe. Identity politics holds that a person’s political views should be dependent on their ethnicity, religion, gender and sexuality. Identity politics holds that what you think should be a function of what you are. To be clear, the claims of identity politics go far beyond the kind of demographic generalisations we see all the time in polls. Identity politics is not merely a description of what is. It is a prescription of what ought to be.

Specifically, Leo Varadkar is gay and so therefore ought to be unqualified in his support for all things LGBT. He is the son of an immigrant and so ought to be uncritically accepting of any number of immigrants being in this country for any reason. More broadly, as a gay man and son of an immigrant he is a member of two “victim groups” and so ought to show solidarity with women (his “fellow-victims”) and be enthusiastically pro-choice.

This, I suspect, explains the strength of feeling against Mr Varadkar. His views make him a traitor to what Johnathan Haidt calls “the cult of the sacred victim” and, for his heresy, he must be burned at the stake.

[1]Varadkar election is a strange one for LGBT people”; Irish Times, 5th June 2017

[2]I’m glad a gay man of color will be Irish prime minister, even if I abhor his politics”; The Guardian, 4th June 2017

[3] “We need to be cautious about celebrating Varadkar’s political success”; thejournal.ie, 12th June 2017

[4]What does scholarly research say about the wellbeing of children with gay or lesbian parents?”; Public Policy Research Portal; Columbia Law School

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