Utah Democratic Party elects openly gay chair

Jim Dabakis says he’ll try to get members of LDS church to join party

Associated Press

Jim Dabakis said his sexual orientation never came up during the nomination process.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Democratic Party has voted overwhelming in favor of electing as its new chairman an art dealer believed to be the first openly gay leader of a political party in the state.

Jim Dabakis, a co-founder of Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center, was elected Saturday during the party’s state convention in Salt Lake City.

Dabakis said his sexual orientation never came up during the nomination process.

“The whole gay thing just simply did not surface as an issue,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune. “People are broad-minded in Utah, and they want to know if you can do the job or not.”

Dabakis also said he will go out of his way to make members of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feel comfortable in the Democratic Party. He said Democrats believe in the inclusion of all people, even if they have some differing opinions, including Mormons who primarily vote Republican.

“I want to speak directly to the LDS people in our state,” he said. “I want you LDS people to participate in our party. We want your spirit, we want your contributions, and we want to earn your votes. I will do whatever I can as chair to see that our big tent is comfortable to LDS people because it’s the right thing to do.”

Dabakis said many Mormons want a chance to be part of the “normal, moderate, reasonable” Democratic Party in light of splintering in the GOP between the tea party and more moderate Republicans.

“People are looking for real life answers to problems,” said Dabakis, who replaces retiring three-term party chairman Wayne Holland. “I believe to my core Democrats can win in Utah.”

The Utah Republican Party controls both houses of the state Legislature. It also holds all statewide offices and two of the three congressional seats.

Democratic Party delegates noted Dabakis has been a successful businessman and radio talk show host, and has been involved Utah politics for 30 years, the Deseret News reported.

“He will bring energy,” said Tim Chambless, with the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. “He’ll bring a greater connection with the business community.”

Convention delegates also elected small-business owner Brian Doughty, who is openly gay, to replace state Rep. Jackie Biskupski of Salt Lake City. Biskupski resigned after buying a house outside the district.

—  John Wright

Yet another gay teen suicide?

Alec Henriksen

Another teen who may have been gay has taken his own life — and this time he was from Utah, where a Mormon apostle just a few days ago called same-sex attraction “unnatural” and “impure” and said it can be changed.

We’ve long been saying on this blog that those in positions of power who spew homophobia have the blood of gay teen suicide victims on their hands — and we can only hope the reality of this will finally take hold in the mainstream.

PrideInUtah.com reports that 18-year-old Alec Henriksen, a Utah native who was a student at Earlham College in Indiana, was found dead on Sept. 30:

Alec Henriksen was a brilliant young computer programmer. And while suicide is always a terrible idea, I want to use his death as a call-to-action for anyone who cares for these young people. Please, help them. Love them for who they are. Put them in touch with the Trevor Project if possible.

PrideInUtah.com adds that the website from which it obtained the information about Henriksen’s suicide — and presumably about his sexual orientation — has since been taken down.

However, Instant Tea found this statement on the Earlham College website confirming Henriksen’s death. The statement says his body was found on property belonging to Earlham Cemetery, and that no foul play is suspected. We also found Henriksen’s obituary in the Salt Lake Tribune.

If it turns out that Henriksen was not gay, our point remains. And if he was gay but someone is trying to cover it up, it would be typical of how Mormon culture deals with gay teen suicide — which is a big problem in Utah.

If Henriksen was gay, his death would bring to at least six the number of gay teen suicides that have been reported nationwide in recent weeks. Of course, it’s safe to say the real number is considerably higher.

—  John Wright