ABOVE: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) recognized Pride month and LGBT youth suicide on the Senate floor. Photo by Gage Skidmore; courtesy Creative Commons.
Sen. Orrin Hatch took an unusual step for a Republican from Utah on Wednesday and recognized June as Pride month, invoking the occasion to draw attention to LGBT youth suicide.
In remarks on the Senate floor, Hatch maintained suicide affects all corners of society, but is “particularly acute” among LGBT youth, whom the senator said “experience bullying and discrimination at every turn.”
“In the most devastating cases, these teenagers even face estrangement from their own families,” Hatch said. “That’s why today, in honor of Pride Month, I wish to devote a significant portion of my remarks to them — my young friends in the LGBT community.”
Research has found LGBT youth have high rates of suicide and suicidal ideations. According to 2016 numbers from the Centers for Disease Control, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of their straight peers, and are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide.
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found 40 percent of respondents had attempted suicide in their lifetime — nearly nine times the attempted suicide rate in the U.S. population at large. Of those transgender respondents who attempted suicide, 34 percent said they did so before age 13; 39 percent between the ages of 14 and 14; and 20 percent between the age 18 and 24.
Hatch said the high rate of suicide, especially among LGBT teens “is a serious problem that requires national attention.”
“No one should ever feel less because of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” Hatch said. “LGBT youth deserve our unwavering love and support. They deserve our validation and the assurance that not only is there a place for them in this society, but that it is far better off because of them.”
The Mormon senator also invoked religion to condemn LGBT youth suicide, saying society and LGBT youth need each other “to illuminate the richness and diversity of God’s creations.”
“The first tenet of my faith is to love one another,” Hatch said. “The same man who taught this principle also lived it by his example. In an era characterized by rigid social divisions, he broke down barriers propped up by centuries of tradition and cultural belief. In his teachings, he made no distinction between man or woman, Jew or Gentile, sinner or saint, but invited all to come to him.”
Hatch called for passage of the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, legislation he introduced with Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) that would create a three-digit number for the national suicide prevention hotline.
“I believe that by making the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline system more user-friendly and accessible, we can save thousands of lives by helping people find the help they need when they need it most,” Hatch said.
Although the Senate has approved the legislation, the House has yet to follow suit. The House Energy & Commerce Committee was set on the day Hatch delivered his remarks to consider the proposal.
Over his long tenure in Congress, Hatch has built a mixed record on LGBT issues. On one hand, he supported a U.S. constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage and voted against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, but also voted in favor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and affirmed support for transgender people when President Trump announced he’d seek to ban them from the U.S. military.
Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project, said his organization is “so grateful” for Hatch’s remarks against LGBT youth suicide.
“Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers,” Brinton said. “Sen. Hatch has been working on the successful introduction and passage of S. 1015 since last year, so we are excited to work together and implement this legislation to protect LGBTQ youth who call crisis intervention and suicide prevention hotlines on a daily basis.”
It isn’t the first time a Republican has recognized LGBT people on the Senate floor. Amid reports gay men in Chechnya were being sent to concentration camps, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took to the Senate floor to denounce the human rights violation and call for action.
Although Hatch has recognized Pride month, Trump hasn’t done so. For the second year in a row, Trump has refused to issue a Pride proclamation and any kind of recognition of the occasion.