Ireland's Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, who despite some reports was already out as gay in some aspects of his private life chose to make his sexual orientation a matter of public knowledge with the upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage.
Varadkar is a member of the Fine Gael party and came out this morning on the Irish radio station RTÉ. He told the radio station that given upcoming potential changes in the ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, he did not want there to be any concern that he had a "hidden agenda," despite the fact that he is directly impacted by the current legislation.
I am now the Minister for Health. There are decisions coming up that are not entirely my own, but I will be involved in them. We've legislation coming forward this year about whether or not we lift the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.
I want people to know that whatever decisions are made on any issue, I'll make them according to what I believe is public interest. I won't be allowing my own background or sexual orientation to dictate the decisions that I make.
Listening to the broadcast myself this morning, as well as following various reports on Twitter, I very much got the impression that the decision to publicly announce his orientation was difficult for Varadkar. It wasn't that he came off as frightened, but it was clear that he has valued his privacy, and for a public official it seemed the loss of his privacy was a greater challenge than acknowledging his orientation. He struggled, you could hear it in his voice. The words were hard to say.
I am a gay man, it's not a secret, but not something that everyone would necessarily know but isn't something I've spoken publicly about before. It's 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. I'm comfortable to talk about it now, but I haven't always been. It's not a big deal for me anymore. I hope it's not a big deal for anyone else.
We often have people speak about us as brave, congratulating us for our courage to come out. Yet, sometimes, coming out isn't the hardest part. In fact, sometimes, coming out is easy. It's the easy part. It's what comes after that is frightening. It's not always that we're afraid of letting the world know we're queer—we're afraid of letting the world know what is none of the world's business. And yes, we're afraid of painting targets on our backs. And as afraid as we are for ourselves, we can be more afraid for our partners, our families, and our friends.
My mum was concerned I would be beat up on the street, or that I'd lose my seat, or that people would use it against me in politics.
I congratulated Varadkar over twitter in both English and Irish, and I called him courageous. But I don't call him courageous for coming out; I call him courageous for holding himself up as the public figure he is and giving up his privacy. I call him courageous for all that will come after. Although a majority of Ireland, including nearly all political parties, is finally ready for change, that doesn't mean that the minister won't be targeted. He knowingly stepped into the firing line.
And that is courage.
Image via Getty.