The communications director for the Salt Lake County Republican Party has been heavily criticized after telling The Salt Lake Tribune that suicide rates in the LGBTQ community may be linked to gay men’s promiscuity and a high number of sex partners.
In a meeting with the newspaper’s editorial board, Dave Robinson — who appeared alongside County GOP Chairman Scott Miller — recounted a conversation with neighbors in which he had attempted to defend the Republican Party from the charge that it is hostile towards to the gay community.
“I said, you can own your own business, you can run for office — I don’t think there’s a better time on this planet in history to be gay than right now,” Robinson, who is gay, said.
He then said his neighbors asked about the high rate of suicide among members of the LGBTQ community.
“So then I walked through and I said, ‘I actually think it has more to do with the lifestyle that the gays are leading that they refuse to have any scrutiny with,'” he said. He then went on to say that he knows people who have had “over 2,000 sex partners” and said he thinks that could be contributing to “some of the self-loathing” that drives people to commit suicide.
“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, noting that such people may turn to sex to fill a void left by a lack of acceptance in Utah. “The gay community really needs to start having some conversations within their community, saying how is our lifestyle affecting our mental health.”
He also offered a negative opinion about the availability of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, as a form of protection against HIV. According to Robinson, making PrEP widely available may be contributing to the rise of other STDs, and also to the rise of mental health issues that can lead to suicide.
Robinson claimed that the county health department was caving to political pressure from the LGBTQ community and giving out PrEP for free. That, in turn, was leading members of the community to have unprotected sex like “bunny rabbits” at monthly “sex parties” because those taking PrEP were unaware that it does not protect against other sexually transmitted diseases.
Lynn Beltran, the STD and HIV epidemiology supervisor at the Salt Lake County Health Department, has since characterized those claims as “wildly inaccurate,” noting that the department has never given out free pills and that it is unable to prescribe medication.
When he was notified that his comments were going to be published, Robinson responded to Beltran’s criticism by saying he was relaying information from the health department as he understood it and that there may have been some mischaracterization in his conversation with the county. He also refused to back away from his remarks, noting that members of the party don’t agree that there is “only one cause or solution” to the issue of suicide.
“I stand by my position that multiple sexual partners leads to increased risk of STD and HIV, which affects one’s mental, physical and financial health, which leads to a higher risk of depression which leads to a higher risk of thoughts of suicide which leads to higher suicide rates,” Robinson said in an email sent to the Tribune.
But Robinson really got into trouble when the comments were finally published, which prompted many of his fellow Republicans to denounce the remarks.
“I am angry that someone who purports to speak for Republicans has made such inappropriate, inaccurate and hurtful comments,” Salt Lake County Council Chairwoman Aimee Winder Newton told the Tribune. “This has caused our LGBTQ friends heartache and has been counterproductive in our fight against suicide.”
She later reiterated those criticisms on Twitter.
— Aimee Winder Newton (@AimeeNewton) August 21, 2018
Sen. Daniel Thatcher (R-West Valley) also weighed in on the comments, noting that he was attending a family dinner where he was celebrating President Donald Trump’s signing into law an order to create a national three-digit number for a suicide hotline, similar to 911.
Thatcher was one of two Utah lawmakers who first proposed the idea and unsuccessfully tried to push it through the legislature. Two of Utah’s congressmen later adopted Thatcher and Rep. Steve Eliason’s ideas and incorporated them into the bill signed by Trump.
Taking to Twitter, Thatcher wrote: “Mr. Robinson, you do NOT speak for me. Bigotry in any form is unacceptable. Disappointing is not a strong enough word.”
Instead of enjoying a celebratory dinner with family recognizing the passage of Historic National Legislation for suicide prevention, I have to react to this.
Mr. Robinson, you do NOT speak for me. Bigotry in any form is unacceptable. Disappointing is not a strong enough word. https://t.co/qqsLN1OwcH
— Daniel W. Thatcher (@SenThatcher) August 22, 2018
The Utah Log Cabin Republicans also responded to Robinson’s comments about suicide and STD rates.
“Both of these issues deserve to be discussed by as many people as possible, especially policymakers, in order to find real solutions and combat these challenges,” the statement reads. “This becomes extremely difficult when comments like these are made on these subjects and reported in a way that suggests any of us believe that underage young men are out at group sex parties, contracting diseases and then committing suicide over that situation.”
Robinson has continued to stand by his earlier comments, telling the Tribune that the response to his remarks, “both pro and con, show that there is a tremendous need [for dialogue] on these issues within not only the gay community but the straight community and the county as a whole.” He also promised to continue to engage with the party and hopes to have deeper, more thoughtful conversations about the issue in the future.
Miller, the county GOP chair, told the Tribune in an email statement that Robinson’s comments were based on the communication director’s conversations with members of the LGBTQ community, “and were not necessarily his own views and were not presented as the position of the Salt Lake County Republican Party.”
Miller subsequently wrote an open letter apologizing for the comments, which appeared in several local LGBTQ publications.
“The subject of depression and suicide transcends all of our communities,” he wrote. “I want to be very clear that the Salt Lake County Republican Party and our candidates do not agree that there is only one cause or solution to our local/national suicide concerns. We believe there are many factors surrounding these issues and we will continue to diligently seek solutions.
According to the Tribune, Miller has refused to fire Robinson himself, instead leaving the decision up to members of the county GOP’s Central Committee.
On Aug. 23, Miller told members of the committee at a meeting in Sandy that “I have been told by elected officials that if I don’t have his head, they’re going to take mine. I don’t report to them, so I’m going to leave it to you.”
Members of the party voted to take a day to review the facts and then vote whether to remove Robinson from his post in an online poll circulated via email on Friday. The results of that poll have not yet been released to the public, and there has been no update on the county GOP’s Facebook page or social media.