Varadkar, the first openly gay man elected to lead his country, and Barrett watched the Saturday festivities from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan before joining the parade next to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).
It was a powerful gesture, given that LGBTQ groups had been banned from participating in the parade until 2015. Among the most outspoken critics of the ban was New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), who opted for the queer-inclusive St. Pat’s For All Parade in neighboring Queens in 2014.
That same year, producers of the Irish dry stout Guinness cited the ban as their incentive to drop their sponsorship of the Manhattan parade. (The company resumed its sponsorship the next year when the ban had been dropped.)
The symbolism wasn’t lost on Varadkar. The prime minister said the chance to march with Barrett, a cardiologist who resides in Chicago, by his side was a “real privilege.”
“Only a few years ago people couldn’t march under the rainbow banner, but that has all changed,” Varadkar told media at the parade.
He added, “I’m going to be able to march in the parade now with my partner which is something that is a sign, I think, of change, a sign of great diversity, not just in Ireland, but in the community here as well.”
Cuomo shared similar sentiments, saying he was “proud to march alongside” the prime minister on Twitter Saturday.
“Today as every day, New Yorkers know diversity is our greatest strength,” he wrote.
The evening before the parade, Varadkar dropped by the Stonewall National Monument in New York’s Greenwich Village for a photo op. The nearby Stonewall Inn and its environs were the site of the 1969 riots considered the symbolic start of the modern day LGBTQ rights movement.
It was an eventful, weeklong visit for Varadkar, who took office last June.
“He was aware of European affairs in terms of trade, and was also very aware that we have a low tax regime,” Varadkar later said of the meeting. “I wouldn’t say he was an expert on Ireland, but he had an awareness of issues relating to Ireland and gave us a lot of time during the day, which I think was very welcome.”