SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Republican voted out of office in a primary after coming out as gay in conservative Utah says a backlash during the campaign has him questioning whether his party has a place for him.
Rancher Nathan Ivie announced his orientation last year while serving as a county commissioner in deep-red Utah County. He said then he wanted to let people know it’s OK to live authentically as an LGBTQ Republican in an area where most people, including him, are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The faith is against same sex marriage but tries to take a welcoming stance to LGBTQ people.
Since coming out, Ivie has sponsored a successful resolution making Utah County a Second Amendment sanctuary to block gun restrictions. He also backed a resolution supporting more restrictions on abortion.
However, his vote in favor of a contentious property tax increase became a key issue in the race.
Many people were publicly supportive about him coming out. But he’s also gotten angry messages when posting pictures of himself with his partner on his personal Facebook page. Other horse breeders urged colleagues not to do business with Ivie because he is gay.
“We have a lot of work to do in our community,” Ivie said Thursday. "It's still a very hidden, suppressed thing but as someone living the experiences of discrimination you get it."
The Utah LGBTQ rights group Equality Utah agreed his sexuality was a deciding factor in the race. “He is as conservative a Republican as you can get — and the only difference between him and elected officials he serves with, is that he is openly gay,” said executive director Troy Williams.
Ivie said as he made campaign calls, one person said they wished he had succeeded when he tried to kill himself at age 22 while struggling with his sexuality.
Ugly messages on social media picked up, and there were insinuations he had lied by getting married and starting a family over a decade ago, he said. He and his wife separated shortly before he came out but they remain close and co-parent their children, including things like a blended July 4 camping trip with his partner, Ivie said.
The property tax hike also created political headwinds, and his opponent said that was the main determiner in the race. Former Marine Lt. Col. Tom Sakievich said Ivie’s sexual orientation was referenced by some voters, but it was a “minor, minor issue” compared with the 67% tax hike approved by the commission.
Ivie said many voters understood the tax hike when he explained the real cost to the average homeowner was less than a Netflix subscription. That issue alone doesn’t explain his lopsided loss by 20 percentage points, he said.
The chair of the Utah GOP, meanwhile, pointed out that several incumbents in Utah were ousted this year due to tax issues, and he expects Ivie was one. Derek Brown said he wants the GOP to welcome LGBTQ people. “As a party, if we have not done as good a job of doing outreach then as the chair I’m committed to making sure we do even better in the future,” he said.
Republican commissioner Tanner Ainge also voted in favor of the tax hike and tweeted his support of his colleague Thursday. He condemned hate mail as appalling and said Ivie “chose what was best for Utah County — not his own re-election.”
Ivie said he may run again for public office but perhaps as a Libertarian rather than a Republican.
“I want to be someplace where the things I believe in are celebrated. It’s certainly not the Democratic party. I’m becoming more and concerned it’s not the Republican party,” he said.