Irish public figures come out as referendum on marriage equality approaches

With Ireland's referendum on marriage equality approaching in May, LGBT visibility and the number of public figures coming out and showing support for LGBT people is skyrocketing.

On the Sunday morning show on RTE' Radio One, the Irish Health Minister Leo Varadkar came out as gay while speaking about his career, family, and personal life. By doing so he has become the first ever openly gay minister in Ireland. While acknowledging the importance of the referendum in his decision to come out, the minister emphasized that being gay does not define who he is. He said: “It’s not something that defines me, I’m not a half-Indian politician or a doctor politician, I’m not a gay politician for that matter, it’s just part of who I am.”

Since the interview, minister Varadkar has received a number of encouraging messages. One of the first people to show support was Labor Party politician Dominic Hannigan. While praising Mr. Varadkar's decision to come out, he also expressed empathy for people who have not come out yet.

“There is nothing to be feared. You can gain a lot and feel happier. But you have to understand that people have very different reasons that make that decision very hard. They could be married, for example. Leo will be a very positive role model for them. It will help kids to come to terms with themselves. It will make a lot of people much happier in themselves and it will lead to better mental health”, he said.

Mr. Hannigan himself came out ten years ago, making him the first openly gay member of the lower house of Irish Parliament. He married his husband this year in London, deciding not to wait for the outcome of the referendum.

Hannigan's decision to announce his marriage status comes ahead of the referendum as part of his effort to fight the complacency among Irish voters. Hannigan feels that LGBT visibility among government officials and public figures will be crucial in the referendum's outcome. It will motivate voters who do not feel as connected to the LGBT community and movement.

High profile members of the Irish population have seemingly gained courage from the coming out of Leo Varadkar and the support of Dominic Hannigan. The serving member of the Irish High Court, Justice Aileen Donnelly, and football legend Valerie Mulcahy, have all come out since