The news of Leo Eric Varadkar assuming the office of the Prime Minister of Ireland made many headlines in the last month. While a few concentrated on the qualifications and vision of the new Taoiseach (Irish PM), for many what stood out was his ethnicity and sexual orientation. Varadkar is a half-Indian, openly gay Prime Minister.
Popularly referred to as the ‘Celtic Tiger’, Varadkar has come to embody the liberalisation of a country that was once regarded as one of the most socially conservative in Europe. His rise to the top of Irish politics makes him Ireland’s first and one of the five openly gay heads of government in modern times, which includes Ana Brnabic (Serbia), Johanna Sigurðardóttir (Iceland), Elio Di Rupo (Belgium) and Xavier Bettel (Luxembourg).
The appointment of these politicians as heads of their respective states has started a global debate about how and why every democratic country should be open to someone with a vision to develop the country, irrespective of their caste, creed, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
While many nations in the West are opening up to these ideals, the LGBTQ community in India is still struggling with Section 377. Not many politicians were ready to make any comment about these European nations accepting LGBTQ communities in their politics or about India having a long way to go for any such development to take place here.
Explaining the political scenario in the country, well-known journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta says, “Looking at the current political and social situation prevailing in India, one shouldn’t be surprised that there is considerable intolerance towards people with a different sexual orientation.”
He adds, “However, I really hope that Indian society becomes more tolerant and accepting, because for a nation like ours, it is necessary to include various points of view, irrespective of their economic, social and sexual background.”
The battle for the LGBTQ community is, however, far from over. In a shocking statement, the US President Donald Trump recently announced that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving “in any capacity” in the US Armed Forces.
Although many big celebrities and politicians have condemned this, it proves that life is not rosy for the LGBTQ community even in one of the “most developed” nations in the world.
Ana Brnabi, was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Serbia on June 29, 2017. She is the first openly LGBT head of government in Eastern Europe and the second female LGBT head of government overall.
Xavier Bettel is the Prime Minister of Luxembourg. Bettel is openly gay, and once stated that increasingly in Luxembourg “people do not consider the fact of whether someone is gay or not”.
Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was the Prime Minister of Iceland from 2009 to 2013. In 1994, when she lost a bid to head the Social Democratic Party, she raised her fist and declared “Minn tími mun koma!” (“My time will come!”), a phrase that became a popular Icelandic expression.
Elio Di Rupo, was the Prime Minister of Belgium from 2011 to 2014. Not only was he Belgium’s first openly gay prime minister, but was also the first head of state of non-Belgian descent.
Liberal thought is what our party stands for and when you get news of things like a homosexual person becoming a Prime Minister of a country, of course you can only applaud the inclusive spirit. In India, we need to simply look to our rich and liberal past, instead of looking to the west for examples. If you look at the sculptures and paintings of the ancient civilization, homosexuality was a part of our culture even at times when Ireland thought of fit as taboo. We are a democracy, so we should allow all people of all sensibilities, sexualities and backgrounds should be accepted and judged only on the basis of their leadership qualities when they contest for any political position.
— Sachin Sawant, Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee Spokesperson
When we speak about diversity, we must also accept people with different sexual orientations and it’s high time that in politics, legitimacy is given to it. Section 377 must go and we must accept people, no matter what their religious, cultural, food or sexual preferences are.
It is not about a country drawing inspiration from countries like Ireland or Serbia. We need to send a message to our citizens, and anybody who has studied Indian culture and mythology will understand that alternate sexuality was not just accepted, but even celebrated.
— Tehseen PoonaWalla, congress activist
The fact that the Serbian and Irish Prime Ministers are homosexual is a reflection of the liberal attitude of the voters. They are only judged according to their performance and not by what happens behind closed doors in their private lives. In India, we are still far from having a similar kind of acceptance and there aren’t any openly gay politicians. Prime Minister Narendra Modi often says ‘perform or perish’ and I think that is the only parameter that leaders should be judged upon. So long as what you are doing in your private life does not hamper your capacity as a leader, there should be no point of contention.
— Shaina NC, BJP leader