Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed last night that his partner Matt Barrett, a cardiologist who has spent time working in the USA, would accompany him to this morning’s breakfast meeting at the home of Vice-President Mike Pence.
“He was able to get time off work and make the journey, so he’ll be taking up the invitation from Mike and Karen Pence to attend,” Varadkar said.
It is traditional for the Taoiseach’s annual St Patrick’s Day trip to Washington DC to include breakfast with the Vice-President, usually on the day of the customary meeting with the US President in the Oval Office. Later today, Varadkar will join President Donald Trump for talks on Brexit and undocumented Irish immigrants.
Pence has a disturbing record on LGBT+ rights. During his time in Congress, he has voted against hate crime laws and gay people serving in the military. In 2015 he signed the Indiana Senate Bill, which allowed citizens claiming “religious objections” to LGBT+ relationships to use those objections as a basis for discrimination.
Since stating on his website that federal dollars should be taken from “organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviours that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus,” and redirected to “those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behaviour,” he has been dogged by accusations of supporting conversion therapy.
Varadkar, one of very few openly gay heads of government worldwide, raised the issue of LGBT+ rights at last year’s meeting with the Vice-President. At that time, Pence issued the invitation for Barrett to attend the breakfast at his home this year – an invitation that Varadkar called “a very nice gesture.”
Barrett will also attend the traditional shamrock ceremony in the White House, though it is understood he won’t be taking to the stage.
At the meeting, Varadkar told Pence that he once lived in a country where if he had been himself he would have been breaking laws. But times have changed, he said, and “I stand here this morning as leader of my country, flawed and human, but judged on my political actions and mistakes and not on my sexual orientation or my skin tone.”
The Taoiseach noted that his story was now possible not only in Ireland but in other countries, including the USA. He thanked Pence for his “wonderful hospitality.”
Pence welcomed Matt Barrett to his home, referring to Barrett’s time working as a doctor in Chicago and saying that “all my family are from Chicago.” He thanked Varadkar for an invitation to visit Ireland, and said that he is making plans to visit this country with his mother.
To Varadkar’s impassioned statement on leadership as a gay man, he said that the Taoiseach had offered “Inspiring words.”
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