Gehrke: It’s ridiculous that Salt Lake County Republicans haven’t taken action against their spokesman for his harmful comments about LGBTQ suicide

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune The Salt Lake Tribune staff portraits. Robert Gehrke.

Last week, a 9-year-old in Colorado killed himself after he was bullied by classmates because he was gay.

It was a tragic case where an LGBTQ youth took his own life after losing hope, and it happens in Colorado and in Utah and across the country, because these young people are bullied and ostracized.

Contrary to what the Salt Lake County Republican Party’s official spokesman, Dave Robinson, said last week, it is not a result of gay people having “grundles of sex” with random partners.

“I actually think it has more to do with the lifestyle that the gays are leading that they refuse to have any scrutiny with,” Robinson said last week in a meeting with The Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial board.

“You talk to some of these people that have had grundles of sex partners and the self-loathing and basically the unhappiness and the self-hatred level is tremendously high,” he said. “The gay community really needs to start having some conversations within their community, saying how is our lifestyle affecting our mental health.”

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune David Robinson, Republican candidate for Salt Lake County mayor, talks with the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board and the paper's offices in Salt Lake City Thursday September 22, 2016.

His comments proved to be a national embarrassment and yet, for more than a week, Salt Lake County Republican Party Chairman Scott Miller has failed to take any action, aside from saying his hand-picked spokesman — a position that never existed before — doesn’t speak for the party.

He had initially promised party officers they would have a say in Robinson’s fate through an online poll of members, but now plans for such a vote are off.

It’s possible that Miller thought he had bought himself some time and breathing room and it would all blow over.

We should all make sure it doesn’t.

Since Robinson’s comments, an estimated 15 Utahns have ended their lives. By the end of the day, one more will join them. The suicide rate in the state is 60 percent higher than the national average.

As alarming as those numbers are, the problem is even worse in the LGBTQ community. Nationally, one in six gay, lesbian and bisexual young people has contemplated suicide and they are five times as likely to have attempted suicide than their heterosexual peers. Of particular note, in this state, a LGBTQ young person from a family that rejects them is 8.4 times as likely to attempt suicide.

It’s bad enough that Robinson, who is gay, used his position of authority to paint an entire community as depraved sex-crazed deviants. In the process, he also further marginalized a group already at risk.

And, oh, by the way, his claims of sex-addled gay people losing hope and taking their own life? It’s not the case, according to Dr. Greg Hudnall, executive director of Hope For Utah, a peer-oriented suicide prevention program.

For two decades, Hudnall has been part of a crisis response team. He said he has never witnessed or heard of a situation like the one Robinson is describing.

“I disagree with [his comments] and I’ve never experienced it. … I’ve never seen or heard or felt that at all in any situation in the past 20 years,” he said. “What we see happening is they attempt because they get rejected by their family or because they’re the kids who are bullied the most by their community.”

What young people need, regardless of their sexual orientation, Hudnall said, is hope and he worries that comments like Robinson’s can have the opposite effect.

“You may not agree with their behavior or whatever, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be respected and supported and I think discussions like this are very harmful. They’re harmful to the individual and I think they’re very harmful to the community,” he said. “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire community to save one. … When you’re attacking one another, there’s no coming together. It’s very harmful.”

Last week, County Council Chairwoman Aimee Winder Newton, state Sens. Daniel Thatcher and Howard Stephenson, and other officials and candidates jointly issued a statement calling for Robinson’s dismissal, saying his comments were hurtful to people, undermined suicide prevention efforts and gave the party a black eye.

“Every minute that goes by with him still in this position further discredits our party,” they wrote.

Yet here we are.

“I’m deeply disappointed with the inaction from the chairman and I hope he takes responsibility soon,” Thatcher told me Wednesday.

It needs to happen. And if Miller won’t take responsibility, then it would be a good idea for the party to find a new chairman, too.


If you are contemplating suicide or know someone who might be, there are people willing to help.

• The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

• The Trevor Project Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386

• University of Utah Statewide Crisis Hotline: 801-587-3000

• Download the SafeUT app here: https://healthcare.utah.edu/uni/programs/safe-ut-smartphone-app/