Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, broke with his party on Wednesday and honored LGBTQ Pride Month from the floor of the United States Senate. During his impassioned 10-minute speech, the 84-year-old conservative spoke about suicide prevention awareness and the disproportionate mental health challenges faced by LGBTQ youth.
“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,” Hatch said from the podium. “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 spoke in favor of creating a three-digit number for the National Suicide Hotline, which is currently available at 1-800-273-8255. A three-digit code would make the hotline easier to remember, like 911 is for emergencies.
“These young people need us — and we desperately need them,” Hatch continued. “We need their light to illuminate the richness and diversity of God’s creations. We need the grace, beauty, and brilliance they bring to the world.”
Lesbian, gay and bisexual students are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A report based on CDC data released by the Utah Department of Health said the state’s youth suicide rate had increased 136 percent between 2011 and 2015 and is a leading cause of death for Utah residents ages 11-17.
Historically, Hatch has been a vocal opponent of LGBTQ rights, but in recent years his opposition has softened.
In 1977, his first year in the Senate, Hatch said, “I wouldn't want to see homosexuals teaching school anymore than I'd want to see members of the American Nazi Party teaching school,” according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Hatch, who is Mormon, has also opposed same-sex marriage on several occasions during his decades in office. In the 1990s, he championed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denied same-sex couples federal benefits and recognition. He was also the lead author of a 2013 brief signed by 10 senators that unsuccessfully urged the Supreme Court to uphold DOMA. Hatch’s website currently affirms his support of “traditional marriage” and touts his record for defending “marriage as being between a man and a woman.”
Hatch’s voting record on LGBTQ issues earned him a failing grade of 16 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s latest Congressional Scorecard. While Hatch scored better than many of his Republican colleagues (including former Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, who scored zero), he scored worse than every Senate Democrat.
Given his poor track record on LGBTQ issues, Hatch’s remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday came as a surprise. His comments also provided a contrast between him and President Donald Trump, who failed to recognize June as LGBTQ Pride Month for the first two years of his presidency.
Hatch, who is the Senate’s longest-serving Republican, announced in January that he would not seek another term in office.