Leo Varadkar became Ireland’s Taoiseach, aka Prime Minister, a few days ago. His election, however, made it to the news for many different reasons. First, he is quite young; at just 38 years of age, he achieved something that many would not even aspire for. But even more important than that was the fact that Ireland’s new Prime Minister was openly gay. In his first address to the Irish Parliament or Dail, after his election, Varadkar said, “I’ve been elected to lead, but I promise to serve.”
His election sent down many feelings around the world. Media outlets across the world started celebrating the victory of an openly gay person who had been elected to take up Ireland’s top job. Just like everyone else, the Indian media too was quick to celebrate the success of Varadkar, how it was the ascension of yet another 'Indian Immigrant' to the top. What seems ironic in this is the fact that he being homosexual didn’t dampen the spirit of our media and our people to claim him as one of our own. However, here's why it is ironic.
The fact opens up an array of discussions. The most prominent one being, would we ever elect a homosexual person to even be a politician, let alone make them the Prime Minister of our country? Well, we all know the answer to it without much of retrospection. Ours is a country that is often seen as filled with potential homophobes and one should not forget that it is this very country which has the Article 377 still in place. For those of you who don’t know the article, it criminalizes homosexuality and sees it as “unnatural”.
We Indians slapped ourselves on the back on the achievement of our own son, an Indian immigrant and on the other hand, we have criminalized homosexuality back home. This hypocrisy needs to be talked about and the ease with which Indian media used the term “openly gay” also needs to be talked about. If we take a closer look at the situation and the circumstances that we have put our queer people in, it won’t be hard to notice that an increasing number of suicides among the community tell us a different story.
Ours is a country where people fear "coming out" because they know that if they do, they have to live a life devoid of honor, and they have to live a life where they are not treated equally to straight people. Not to forget the stigma that they and their families have to face from the society.
(Image Courtesy: Groovy Ganges)
The social exclusion and vilification that the LGBT community in our country has to go through have negated their fundamental rights as an Indian citizen on a daily basis. The matter of the fact is that Leo Varadkar is Ireland’s first gay minister, not India’s. As inevitable as it may sound, this is the time that we live in. Perhaps we take much joy in celebrating people’s success from a distance and often overlook the situation of similar people back home.
The irony of the matter is funny indeed. If you do a simple Google search for ‘openly gay Indian politicians’, the search will lead you to Ireland and Leo Varadkar. As ironic as it may be, one would think that there should be at least one openly gay politician in India. However, the reality is far from that. For India’s gay community, this isn’t merely about symbolism.
(Image Courtesy: The Irish Times)
A walk down the memory lane takes us to 2013 when a prominent politician of our country tweeted that being gay is a mental disorder. Similar misogynistic comments have followed ever since. The unfortunate part about this is that comments made by people of prominent and important parties regarding the LGBT community are too depressing.
The picture in Ireland is clear; Varadkar is a young, openly gay Prime Minister. However, all discussion about his sexuality should just end there. Upon his election, no one highlighted that he is against women’s reproductive rights, has demonstrated a track record of being the anti-working class, and even has reservations against gay people adopting children.
But of course, the Leo Varadkars and the Vikram Seths are different. They seem safe to be celebrated from a distance. And on the flipside, how many of us will be comfortable with having an openly gay political leader in our country? Share your answer with us in your comment below!