In 2004, then-president of the Utah chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans Gordon Storrs was struck by a conversation he overheard while Amendment 3, the constitutional amendment seeking to ban gay marriage, at the state legislature.
“I remember walking through a group of legislators,” he said. “They were standing there saying, ‘Ooh I just touched one of the enemy!’ I thought to myself, what enemy? There are gay people up here talking about things that are imp to us and sharing our ideas and standing up for our beliefs. That doesn’t make us enemies. It means if our government is operating the way it should that they’re honored opposition. It seems like more and more we’ve gotten into a place where [if people] disagree with us, we think they’re our enemy.”
Flash forward four years. The marriage amendment is now part of Utah’s constitution, but there are also three gay politicians on the hill fighting for the state’s gay and transgender citizens. And Storrs would like to become the fourth, and the first openly gay Republican.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do,” said Gordon Storrs, a resident of House District 23, which covers the area from I-15 to the airport in the west and from 4th South to Davis County in the north.
In 2006, Storrs was one of three Republicans to challenge Democrat Jennifer Seelig for her seat in the House of Representatives. Although he got enough votes to make it into the primary, he said that he missed getting his party’s nomination by one vote. This year he fared much better, as no other Republican candidate opposed Seelig in the heavily Democratic district.
Storrs said he got interested in running for office after helping his son John bid for Rep. David Litvak’s District 26 seat in 2004 and working on Gov. John Huntsman’s campaign.
“All of that helped me realize I could do this, I could run and potentially win and I could do a good job in our side of town which often gets left out of things,” said Storrs, who also served on Huntsman’s transition team when the governor took office in 2004.
Storrs said that he hopes to bring his years of leadership experience to the House – years that include service as a hospital administrator in St. George, the president of the Mental Health Association in Utah, a board member of the Utah Pride Center and the former advisor to Salt Lake Community College’s gay-straight alliance Coloring Outside the Lines. He is also an active member of Utah’s Republican Party, having served as a precinct chair, a county delegate, president of the state Log Cabin Republicans chapter and currently a member of the state party’s executive committee.
Although Storrs is quick to criticize his party for being “arrogant” and often unwilling to “listen to all opposing viewpoints … in crafting legislation that helps public policy,” he also said his involvement has shown him a side of the Republican Party that many gay Utahns don’t often see.
“We’re a wonderfully accepting party,” he said. “I say that knowing that some Republicans aren’t, but what I find is people treat me with kindness and respect. I’ve found in my party that people can disagree violently and still be friends and work together.” He added that Huntsman has been very supportive of LCR, as has Republican Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
If elected, Storrs said he will be an advocate not only for gay people, but for the Republican principals that mean so much to him: personal freedom, individual dignity and worth, and the importance of family, all families.
“My party talks a lot about family, and they talk about it often as if it were a single type of family,” he said. “Family is the cornerstone of our society absolutely, but it’s every family. And if you look at make up of family on our side of town, rightly or wrongly so, not many of them fit my party’s traditional view of what a family ought to look like” including, he ads, single parent families, same sex households, households headed by grandparents raising grandchildren “and even some where kids are raising themselves.”
To help families, Storrs said he will seek to create opportunities – for affordable housing and healthcare, and most importantly for education “that recognizes the worth of every single child,” including those whose primary language is not English and whose needs may be different from children who speak English fluently.
“What I want to do is work really hard to make education available, to provide it in a way that meets the needs of each student. It may cost more in some ways, but I think it has to do with more of the way it’s organized,” he said.
Noting that there are over different languages represented in his district’s schools, Storrs also said that he wants to change his district’s reputation for being violent and unsafe, a reputation Storrs calls “unjustified.”
“Our neighborhood is just as safe as anywhere else,” he said, adding that he has lived in the area for years without incident. “[It’s considered to be] the “other side of the tracks” where people who are ‘less desirable’ live. I beg to differ. Some of the best people in town live here. Just because someone doesn’t make as much money has nothing to do with who they are.”
“I’m not in this campaign to be putting down my opponent,” he added. “She’s a wonderful person, but I think I can make a difference she can’t make – the combination of experience, age and party affiliation. I can make a difference for gay people in the legislature just by showing them that indeed, doors are not closed to gay people even in the Republican Party.”