Leo Varadkar will be Ireland’s next prime minister, becoming the first gay man, the youngest person, and the first member of an ethnic minority to hold that post.
Varadkar, the 38-year-old son of an Indian immigrant father and an Irish mother, today was elected leader of the nation’s governing party, Fine Gael, The Guardian reports. As head of the ruling party, he will become prime minister. Parliament will confirm his position when it returns from a recess later this month. He succeeds Enda Kenny, who resigned.
Varadkar, a physician, was elected to Parliament at age 27 and has served as Ireland’s health minister and minister for social protection. He came out in 2015 as the nation prepared to vote on marriage equality, which it approved in a referendum. He overcame “a stiffer-than-expected challenge” for the party leadership from Simon Coveney, the nation’s housing minister, according to The Guardian.
“Speaking after the final votes were tallied in Dublin, Varadkar said he was delighted, humbled and honoured to win,” the newspaper reports. “Coveney joked that at least his children would be pleased that he had lost.”
Varadkar is more liberal than Coveney but is not exactly a leftist; by Ireland’s standards, his politics are center-right, The Guardian notes. His priorities include battling welfare fraud and aiding small businesses, and he once controversially called for the deportation of undocumented immigrants.
“While the international media gathered in Dublin have focused on Varadkar’s sexuality and immigrant family background, Ireland’s news organisations zeroed in on his economic policies,” the paper reports. To LGBT activists, this was a welcome signal that his sexual orientation was a nonissue.
“It is a sign of how much Ireland has changed and moved on that no one really cares if he is gay here,” Brian Finnegan, editor of Dublin’s Gay Community News, told The Guardian. “Irish politicians were among the last sectors of our society to come out of the closet, but now at least we’ve got one gay man and a lesbian, Catherine Zappone, both in the cabinet. That would have been unthinkable perhaps even 10 years ago.”
When Varadkar came out, he told an Irish radio station that being gay is “not something that defines me. I’m not a half-Indian politician or a doctor politician or a gay politician, for that matter. It’s just part of who I am. It doesn’t define me. It is part of my character, I suppose.”
Varadkar will become the second sitting openly gay prime minister in Europe, joining Xavier Bettel of Luxembourg. Previous out European heads of government include Elio di Rupo, a gay man who was Belgium's prime minister from 2011 to 2014, and Johanna Sigurdardottir, a lesbian who was Iceland's prime minister from 2009 to 2013.