An independent lesbian politician who strongly rallied in favour of equal marriage in Ireland has made history – after she was appointed as a government minister.
As an independent Senator, Katherine Zappone became the face of the Yes campaign ahead of Ireland’s equal marriage referendum last year.
The politician tied the knot with wife Ann Louise Gilligan in Canada in 2003 – but after Ireland voted Yes, she won people’s hearts by re-proposing on live TV.
After leaving the Senate earlier this year, she was elected to the Dáil as an independent. This week she was appointed as a government minister, as re-elected Taoiseach Enda Kenny seeks to form a minority government.
The politician makes history as the first openly lesbian minister in the history of Ireland, serving a role as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Leo Vadakar, who came out last year while serving as Minister for Health, will also serve in the new government as Minister for Social Protection.
Ms Zappone said in a statement: ” One of the key principles of my election campaign was the belief that investing in children is the best way to cut poverty and inequality. I have spent a huge part of my career working in children’s services and education, and it has been one of my life ambitions that we ensure all children get an equal start in life. I hope to bring the spirit of change I shared with many others during our long campaign for marriage equality. In the election I asked people to judge me on my track record of delivering change and reducing poverty, and now I will ask people to judge my track record in Government and as a Minister.”
She added: “To solve all the issues Ireland is facing, I believe the Government and Opposition will need to look at all future spending and policies through a lens of equality, guaranteeing that we provide fairness to everyone irrespective of gender, colour, creed or social background. I am bringing a Progressive perspective to Government, to this Department, and to Cabinet, in the hope of creating a more fair and equal Ireland.”
Kieran Rose of LGBT rights group GLEN said: “We offer our warmest congratulations to Minister Zappone and Minister Varadkar. Their positions in Cabinet sends a very strong signal that LGBT people can aspire to and achieve the highest political office in Ireland. We are pleased that the Programme for Government commits to foster greater inclusion, equality and empowerment of LGBT young people. This new Government now has a real opportunity to build on the phenomenal progress of the last year to make further transformative strides towards equality for LGBT people. Real challenges remain, in particular to the mental health and well-being of LGBTI people, including LGBTI young people, as the recent The LGBTIreland Report outlined. Action is needed across all areas of Government to address these urgent challenges.”
Rose added: “It is almost a full year since extraordinary result in the marriage referendum, which clearly demonstrated that Irish people are strongly supportive of their LGBT family members, friends and community. The mandate is there from the Irish people to ensure that we can have full and equal participation in all aspects of Irish society for all LGBT people.”