Leo Varadkar used to hope being gay was just a “phase” and that he could suppress his sexuality by marrying a woman.
The former Irish taoiseach, who came out publicly in 2015, opened up about the challenges of growing up gay and mixed race during an appearance on All Walks of Life on RTÉ One.
Speaking to former president Mary McAleese, Varadkar revealed that he once hoped his attraction to men would dissipate with time, according to The Irish Sun.
“I think everyone’s experience is different,” Varadkar told McAleese. “I think I kind of hoped it would go away, just some sort of phase… or then kind of considered maybe this is just a cross you bear and you get a girlfriend or marry a woman and have a family and just suppress it.
“I think before I came out, I was more judgemental of other people, probably held conservative social views, almost as a reaction to the fact that, ‘if I have to suppress who I am, then why shouldn’t other people’… you know?”
He continued: “And also you become very defensive. People ask you, ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ or ‘Who are you going on holidays with?’ and you assume they are asking you a different question. You become prickly.”
Leo Varadkar came out publicly during an RTÉ Radio interview in 2015 shortly before Ireland went to the polls to vote on same-sex marriage.
The former taoiseach, who currently serves as tánaiste (deputy leader) in Ireland’s government, recounted the moment he realised he could no longer stay quiet about his sexuality.
“I do remember one of my colleagues, and he’s a close colleague, saying to me we needed to be generous to ‘these people’,” Varadkar said.
“Then I thought there’s no way I can campaign for a Yes vote in this referendum talking about ‘them, the other, these people’. So had to be done.”
Varadkar said his father was “absolutely fine” with his decision to come out publicly, but his mother was “less” sure, saying she was “worried” that he would get “beaten up” and that it would be the end of his political career.
Despite his mother’s fears, Varadkar’s coming out was largely heralded as a landmark moment in Irish politics, and two years later, he became the leader of centre-right political party Fine Gael.
Leo Varadkar and his partner faced ‘mixed reaction’ with Mike Pence visit
He has also gone public with his relationship with Matthew Barrett, a cardiologist, who he has been seeing for five years.
Speaking to McAleese on the programme, Leo Varadkar said Barrett usually stays out of politics, but he was eager to accompany him on a trip to the United States where they met with Mike Pence and his wife.
The meeting made global headlines because of Pence’s links to conversion therapy – but Varadkar said it had a “mixed reaction”.
“From some of the gay community in America it was, ‘Well done for confronting vice president Pence with the reality of modern relationships.’ But then other Americans were very critical of us, saying we should boycott this person.
“But I actually do appreciate that we would never have achieved any sort of equality for people who are LGBT+ had it not been for some of the more radical elements,” he said.
Elsewhere in the discussion, Leo Varadkar opened up about the challenges that came with growing up mixed race in a very white, very Catholic Ireland.
“I did grow up in what was a very monocultural Ireland, very white, very Catholic,” Varadkar said.
“I was the guy with the dark skin and the funny nam. Even though I don’t think I was ever subjected to any kind of racial violence or anything like that, there is an othering when you are of colour.
“It is often the little things, the kind of thing where people ask you where you’re from. The often one you’d get asked is ‘do you ever go back to India?’
“I was born in the Rotunda (a hospital in Dublin), I grew up in west Dublin, I don’t go back to India anymore than I go back to Waterford. No harm is meant by it, it’s just ignorance in many ways. But it does still make you feel different.”
Leo Varadkar’s episode of All Walks of Life will air on RTÉ One on Friday (29 January) at 8.30pm.
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