SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called the prevalence of suicide, especially among LGBT teens, "a serious problem that requires national attention" in a speech delivered on the Senate floor to commemorate Pride Month.
"No one should ever feel less because of their gender identity or sexual orientation," Hatch said Wednesday, describing the bullying, discrimination and even estrangement experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.
"LGBT youth deserve our unwavering love and support," he said. "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 because of them."
Hatch, set to retire after 42 years in office, said everyone has a duty "not simply to tolerate but to love" each other, regardless of whether they see themselves as "a religious conservative, a secular liberal or somewhere in between."
He cited the teachings of his own faith as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "that we are all equal because we are all children of the same God and partakers of the same human condition."
The senator also noted his support for Utah's Love Loud Festival and other efforts to deal with the issues that lead to suicide in the LGBT community, but he noted suicide is a public health crisis that has affected all Americans.
Utah's suicide statistics "are particularly alarming," Hatch said. The state now has the fifth-highest suicide rate in the nation, with an average of 630 Utahns dying each year.
He spoke of the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act he introduced last year with Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., that requires the Federal Communications Commission to look at coming up with a three-digit number for the national suicide prevention hotline.5 comments on this story
A House version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, was advanced Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.
Hatch concluded his speech by noting that a decline in civility "has led to unprecedented levels of loneliness, depression and despair," making suicide a symptom of larger problem.
"Civility starts with the words we use," he said. "Whether in person or online, we can be softer in our language, kinder in our actions and stronger in our love. We can combat coarseness with compassion, choosing empathy instead of anger."