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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C
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Taoiseach 'not afraid' to raise LGBT rights with world leaders rolling out draconian laws

Speaking at the UN yesterday the Taoiseach said he was concerned about the ‘alarming pushback against LGBTI rights’.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he is not afraid to raise the issue of LGBT rights with leaders of countries that are rolling out draconian laws or threatening death penalties. 

In an interview with The Journal, the Taoiseach said he cannot bring his personal circumstances into the room when he is meeting with world leaders, stating that his responsibility as Taoiseach is firstly “to represent the interests of Ireland”.

“I always have to be cognisant of that. I obviously care a lot about equal rights issues and LGBT issues, but I can’t make that my number one priority in any meeting I have.

“I have to understand that it’s an issue and a priority but it can’t dominate our international relations,” he said.

However, he added, “It’s something that I’m not afraid to bring up.”

His comments come a day after he spoke at an event at the UN, where he said he was concerned about the “alarming pushback against LGBTI rights”. 

“We see the reintroduction of draconian laws in some countries, including the threat of the death penalty, openly discriminatory laws and increasing backlash against transgender people, and heightened polarisation, including here at the UN,” he said in his speech.

When asked how he, an openly gay man, handles making representations to leaders of countries that are implementing these laws in their own country, the Taoiseach said:

I do think it is a bit strange sometimes when you do meet leaders from countries that criminalise gay people, that they actually have no difficulty if the person is not from their country.

“I suppose their view is very different to ours, their view is, ‘You know, we have our laws in our country, you have your laws in your country; we don’t care what your laws are, you shouldn’t be telling us what our ones are.’

“But I don’t agree with that approach, because I do think basic human rights are universal, and they apply to everyone, everywhere, no matter who they are,” he added. 

In his UN speech, the Taoiseach said he was concerned about the “rise of violence and hatred towards LGBTI people both at home and abroad”.

When asked about some of the rhetoric used currently by TDs and senators about trans rights, he said everyone should be mindful of what they say.

“I would just ask that anyone engaged in these debates are just sensitive to the fact that trans people have always existed. They are a very small minority in our society and a lot of them are very vulnerable,” he added. 

“I don’t like the idea of people portraying that they’re a threat to children. That doesn’t add up, and they are no more a threat to children than anyone else,” he said, adding:

“It is possible to have a rational debate about how people feel and what they think about trans issues and policy in that area without demonising people or making it that they’re a threat to society when they are not.”

The Taoiseach said he is not in favour of stifling debate either, stating that people are entitled to express their views.  

“If you take feminism, it is very divided on this, for example, you know, a lot of women, particularly younger women, are very strong supporters of trans women, and then other feminists take a different view.

“And I think those views need to be heard and they need to be respected. But nobody should be engaging in intolerance or demonisation or raising fears that really don’t stack up,” he said. 

The Taoiseach said there is an “active debate” in Ireland now around trans issues, one that wasn’t as evident when the Gender Recognition Act was passed back in 2015. 

On the issue of recent concerns being raised by some groups about the appropriateness of some school book teachings around sex education, the Taoiseach said books that are recommended for children and teenagers do need to be age appropriate. 

“I think there have been one or two examples where they weren’t, quite frankly. And I definitely think that sex education has to be age appropriate.

“But I do think it’s really important that it happens. Because children will learn about these things anyway, either learn about them from the internet or in the schoolyard, or they learn about them from their parents and their teachers.

“And I would much prefer the parents and teachers, talk to kids about sex, relationships, all of those things, around the same time they’re starting to hear about them in the schoolyard or from the internet, and I’m not sure if that’s always the case. I think that’s important,” said the Taoiseach.