Senator Hatch’s pro-LGBTQ floor speech rings hollow

Hatch could do far more for LGBTQ youth if he wanted to.

CREDIT: Leigh Vogel/WireImage
CREDIT: Leigh Vogel/WireImage

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday and expressed concern about how vulnerable LGBTQ youth are to suicide. In remarks his office tweeted out with the #PrideMonth hashtag, Hatch used the opportunity to promote his own bill that would create a national suicide prevention hotline with a 3-digit code (similar to 9-1-1).

“The suicide epidemic has touched all sectors of our society, but the problem is particularly acute among LGBT youth, who experience bullying and discrimination at every turn,” he said. “No one should ever feel less because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. 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.”

Hatch is correct that LGBTQ youth face far higher suicide rates than their straight, cisgender peers, and as he notes, family rejection can be a significant factor.

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Multiple studies have found that when families respect their transgender children’s gender identity, it largely ameliorates the risk of mental health consequences. Other studies have also shown that rejection among friends and classmates can also influence the kind of depressive symptoms that may lead to suicidal thinking among lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens.

Hatch has a complicated history when it comes to speaking out on LGBTQ issues, however: he voted to confirm cabinet secretaries like Ben Carson and Betsy DeVos, who both have clear records of opposing LGBTQ equality and who have since used their positions to dismantle protections for transgender people. DeVos, for instance, has rolled back protections in schools, and Carson has rolled back protections for homeless shelters, which means a transgender teen rejected by their family may have to struggle even more to find alternative forms of support.

Additionally, Hatch is a co-sponsor of the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act” (FADA), which would create a religious licence to discriminate against LGBTQ people. And just last week, he “applauded” the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

“Courts must protect the ability of believers to freely live their faith and to express their religious beliefs openly and honestly,” he said, referring to the baker at the center of that case, who refused to provide service to a same-sex couple.

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If Hatch is looking to support LGBTQ youth, he might consider instead co-sponsoring The Equality Act, which would create federal nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community. Not a single Republican in the Senate currently supports it.

Hatch could also do more to follow through on the few pro-LGBTQ positions he has taken. When President Trump announced last year that he was banning transgender people from the military, Hatch said that transgender people are born that way and that the military should be open to everybody. But when a bipartisan group of 50 senators wrote a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis in April opposing the ban, Hatch’s name was nowhere to be found among the signers.

It’s not often that Republican senators dedicate time in their floor speeches to advocate for LGBTQ people, and Hatch seemed earnest in his remarks. But his words of support are undermined by his record of ensuring the very kind of discrimination that he’s suddenly concerned about.

Just last month, he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “identity politics” is a “blight on our democracy” and “cancer on our political culture” — raising the question of whether he would even be mentioning LGBTQ people or Pride Month if it didn’t help him advance his own legislation.