The Salt Lake County Republican Party’s communication director, Dave Robinson, will now serve in a more limited role after he came under fire last month for asserting that the suicide rate for Utah’s LGBTQ community may be high because people have too many sex partners.
That’s according to the county Chairman Scott Miller, who sent a statement to members of the State Central Committee on Sunday that said he “considers this matter closed."
“As your chairman and according to our bylaws, I am the spokesperson for the Salt Lake County Republican Party,” Miller wrote in the email. “I never intended and Dave never assumed that he was the spokesperson for our party. Just to clarify, all communications with any internal or external entity will continue to be directed through me.”
An organization’s communication director usually serves as its official mouthpiece, but Miller told The Salt Lake Tribune in an interview Tuesday that Robinson’s position was different.
“His role was to help develop communications through the issue-based items for our candidates,” Miller said. “In other words, he was communicating directly with our candidates to develop their talking points for issues within the county.”
Miller said Robinson is “still helping me” but no longer has a director’s position. When asked for Robinson’s new title, Miller replied: “I don’t have titles anymore.”
Robinson declined a request for comment.
He had joined Miller for a wide-ranging hourlong meeting with The Tribune’s editorial board Aug. 20. During that meeting, Robinson said that while many attribute Utah’s suicide problem among gays and lesbians to pressures associated with membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or maybe to the state’s high altitude, that may not capture the full story.
“I actually think it has more to do with the lifestyle that the gays are leading that they refuse to have any scrutiny with,” said Robinson, who is gay, stating he knows people in the community who have had “over 2,000 sex partners.” That, he said, could be at the root of “some of the self-loathing to the point of suicide.”
Utah’s youth suicide rate has grown at an alarming pace, according to recent studies conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state’s suicide rate among young adults ages 10 to 17 had more than doubled from 2011 to 2015, growing at an annual clip nearly four times faster than the national average.
In all, 150 young people died by suicide over the five-year period, and it’s thought that LGBTQ youths are at a higher risk, but a high number of sex partners hasn’t been floated as a factor.
Greg Hudnall, executive director of Hope For Utah, a peer-oriented suicide prevention program, has been part of a crisis response team for two decades and told The Tribune that he has never witnessed or heard of a situation like the one Robinson described.
“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.”
Robinson’s comments, published the day after the editorial meeting, prompted immediate backlash from leaders in his own party, including Salt Lake County Council Chairwoman Aimee Winder Newton, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, and the Utah Log Cabin Republican caucus.
At the State Central Committee meeting later that week, Miller said he would leave the decision of whether to terminate Robinson up to an online poll limited to members. He never went forward with the poll.
“When I stated that you should be the deciding vote to keep or terminate Mr. Robinson, I did not fully realize at the time that you could not be expected to vote on something that you were not privy to, nor have all of the facts and context,” he said in the statement. “Further, as the bylaws dictate; this decision rests fully with the chair.”
Newton said Tuesday that she was “relieved to hear that Dave Robinson is not the spokesperson for the county party.”
Thatcher called Robinson’s comments “inaccurate and dangerous" and said this is an issue above party infighting.
“For me, this has never been about the chair or the communications director," he said Tuesday. "For me, this is about suicide-prevention efforts, safe talk surrounding the issue and the need to show support, acceptance and inclusion to marginalized communities.”
In his statement, Miller also said that The Tribune’s story “did not accurately represent the intent or context” of his and Robinson’s meeting with the editorial board. “More concerning was that the sensationalized headline and article did not treat seriously and in the proper context the issue of depression and mental health amongst our teens and adults as expressed."
Robinson reaffirmed his comments about the LGBTQ suicide rates in an email before the story published.
Miller has declined multiple opportunities to explain how The Tribune took the meeting out of context. He declined again when reached on Tuesday, saying “I really don’t have a comment on that."