Labeled homophobic and insensitive, Utah County office seeker Jason Christensen's online comments have landed him dead center in a virtual firestorm.
Responding to a post that mourned the loss of an LGBTQ teen, Braxton David Taylor, who recently committed suicide, the Independent American Party candidate running for the Utah Senate District 16 seat condemned the 19-year-old’s sexual orientation and death.
“Yes this is sad, and hopefully God will have mercy on both sins this boy committed,” Christensen’s comment read. “The sins of homosexuality and the sins of murder.”
The internet excoriated Christensen’s remarks, and by midday Friday, he had shut down public access to his Facebook and Twitter pages. A Reddit thread blasting the politician’s post had amassed more than 1,100 responses, including one that called him a “scum pile.”
Initially, Christensen attempted to defend himself, according to a screen shot capturing the exchange and posted on Reddit. Implying those in the LGBTQ community follow “the Gospel of the Devil,” Christensen encouraged readers to seek truth on the topic from the scriptures. In response to a post pointing out the conflation of murder and suicide, Christensen doubled down on a belief that they are the same because in both cases life is lost.
Christensen maintains that his intentions were pure, but agrees that a elegiac Facebook post was the wrong place to express his beliefs. By way of an apology to those he’s hurt, Christensen tells City Weekly he suffers from a careless case of “foot-in-mouth disease.” He expressed love for Taylor, whom Christensen had never met, as well as his family.
“I hope they can get through this troubling time,” he says. “I hope they can forgive me.”
In the wake of his post, Christensen says he’s received hundreds of death threats and hate mail. Author of the original Facebook post that mourned Taylor, Karin Josefina Berg asked readers to refrain from lashing out at Christensen with threats or harassment. Christensen says thousands of Facebook friends can attest to the attacks against his character, a tactic he argues is disingenuous.
Over time, Christensen hopes all involved will “grow spiritually from it, as brothers and sisters,” he says.
But some believe comments like those made by Christensen need to be publicly shamed.
Troy Williams, executive director for Equality Utah, lambasted Christensen. He argues that Christensen should be embarrassed for his hateful comments and furthermore denounced because of the caustic ripple effect hurtful words can have on the local LGBTQ community and beyond.
“His online bullying is both reckless and dangerous,” Williams says. “Too many LGBT youth are already hearing damaging and damning messages. Reckless comments like Christensen’s exacerbate their isolation and fear. We can never allow the hate of these individuals to dim the light of our LGBT youth.”
Williams believes the brazen tenor of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, whose racist and misogynistic tweets are a recurring topic in the political conversation, has exacerbated and fostered vile online discourse, and given license for like-minded politicians to do the same.
“It sets a standard that other callow candidates will follow,” Williams says. “It’s unbecoming for anyone who is to aspire for elected office.”
In a 2014 blog post, Christensen weighed in on a court ruling that allowed same-sex couples in Utah the right to marry. In it, he argued, the court’s decision was an example of federal overreach.
The blowback won’t affect Christensen's decision to run for office.