The new communications director for the Salt Lake County, Utah, Republican Party says high rates of suicide among LGBTQ people are driven partly by "self-loathing" caused by an excessive number of sex partners -- and he's gay himself.
Dave Robinson made the claim, along with remarks about HIV prevention drugs causing gay men to have sex like "bunny rabbits," in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune's editorial board Monday. He started discussing LGBTQ issues by contending the Republican Party is not homophobic.
In response to neighbors who accused the party of being intolerant, "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 assumed the communications director post in late July, told the editorial board.
His neighbors, he said, followed up with a question about suicide among LGBTQ people. "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,'" Robinson said. He said he knows some gay people who have had more than 2,000 sex partners.
"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." He said some gay people use sex to escape the pain they feel from a lack of societal acceptance.
He did not address the fact that suicide is particularly a problem among young people. Utah's suicide rate for youth in general (ages 11-17) is one of the highest in the nation, and it has increased 140 percent since 2011. LGBTQ youth in the state are at particularly high risk for suicide, and some activists and mental health professionals blame this on the homophobia and transphobia of the Mormon Church, which is based in Utah and counts more than 60 percent of the state's residents among its adherents.
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, denounced Robinson's comments, telling the Tribune they are based on "old, tired stereotypes and tropes." He also noted that young people, who are at great risk for suicide, most likely have not even had one sex partner.
"Condemning who and how we love is a strange way to build a bridge between the Republican Party and the LGBTQ community," Williams continued. "Mr. Robinson's rhetoric is deeply irresponsible and unbecoming of a leader in a political party in the state of Utah."
Robinson also said there are problems because of pre-exposure prophylaxis, the practice of taking a prescription medication daily to prevent HIV infection (Truvada is the only drug approved for this use to date).
He said gay people "went to the county health department and said, 'Look, if you love the gays, then you need to give us and all of our people this medication for free.' And so the county's like, 'Yes, we love the gays,' so they start giving them all this medicine." Then, he said, gay people started having condomless sex like "bunny rabbits" at "sex parties," not realizing PrEP doesn't protect against other sexually transmitted infections.
This is "wildly inaccurate," Lynn Beltran, the STD and HIV epidemiology supervisor at the Salt Lake County Health Department, told the Tribune. She said the health department has never dispensed free HIV prevention medication and isn't even authorized to prescribe it. She allowed that there may be a spike in condomless sex nationally because of misunderstandings about PrEP. Doctors recommend that PrEP users continue to use condoms to prevent other STIs.
Robinson said he was conveying information he had received from the health department as he understood it, but he granted there may have been some confusion.
Williams added that Robinson "is mischaracterizing and spreading misinformation about our community. And if he truly wants to help the Republican Party open up their doors to actually invite the LGBTQ community in, he needs to stop this salacious and egregious misinformation."