Mor­mon, Repub­li­can and gay: Politi­cian breaks new ground for Utah

Lodi News-Sentinel - - RELIGION - By David Mon­tero

PROVO, Utah — He got into his black pickup with the ri­fle his fa­ther gave him when he was boy. He fig­ured it would take him about a half-hour to get to the foothills.

Coun­try mu­sic played on the ra­dio, but Nathan Ivie barely heard it. He wore a light jacket. The weather had turned chilly that morn­ing. Or­ange leaves on trees were be­gin­ning to make their last stand.

Ivie wanted it to look like a hunt­ing ac­ci­dent.

When he got to the ridge, it was quiet. He took four rounds and loaded his ri­fle. He set up a pa­per tar­get about 150 yards away. Ivie had killed deer in the past to help feed his fam­ily. Now he had con­vinced him­self that his own death at age 22 would pro­tect his rel­a­tives from a life­time of shame.

He stead­ied the ri­fle, took aim and fired, pur­posely miss­ing the bull’s-eye high and left. The sec­ond one, he drew down and fired again. The third round hit the same spot. The idea was to make it look like he was ad­just­ing his gun scope for an up­com­ing hunt with his fa­ther in Utah.

Ivie paused. Took a breath. He then turned the .243 Winch­ester on him­self and pulled the trig­ger.

Click.

The weapon had mal­func­tioned. Ivie dropped it and fell to the ground, sob­bing. He curled up, his body shak­ing. Time was lost as he lay there on the fringe of the Colorado Rock­ies near Boulder. No­body came. Fi­nally — it could’ve been hours later — he stood up, packed up the ri­fle and drove back to the ranch where he worked in Long­mont.

Thoughts about God raced through his head.

Why can’t he make me straight?

Why can he in­ter­vene so my gun doesn’t shoot me, but he can’t make me like girls?

Over the next 18 years, Ivie found a wife, had two kids, showed cham­pion horses and got into Repub­li­can pol­i­tics by win­ning a seat on the Utah County Com­mis­sion, all the while keep­ing that day to him­self — buried deep be­neath the pain.

Then, last year, he de­cided to come out to a close friend and tell him about his sui­cide at­tempt. In March, he told his wife and then his par­ents. Then late last month, at age 40, with­out go­ing into the de­tails he later pro­vided the Los An­ge­les Times, he told the world.

“There’s no easy way to say this,” he said in a Face­book video. “I might as well jump up and say it: I’m gay. That’s my re­al­ity.”

Wear­ing his brown cow­boy hat with the light strains of “Land­slide” by Fleet­wood Mac play­ing in the back­ground, he told view­ers about the sui­cide at­tempt. How he and his wife had sep­a­rated, though main­tained a good re­la­tion­ship: “She’s my best friend and sup­porter. And I’m hers,” he said.

With the post, Ivie be­came the first openly gay Repub­li­can to ever hold elected of­fice in Utah.

Utah County is one of the most con­ser­va­tive places in one of the most con­ser­va­tive states. There are 157,090 ac­tive reg­is­tered Repub­li­cans — al­most nine times the num­ber of Democrats.

The county is also home to Brigham Young Univer­sity, owned by the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints — a faith that had long dis­ap­proved of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. Its cur­rent po­si­tion is that be­ing gay isn’t a sin, but en­gag­ing in ho­mo­sex­ual acts is. Like the Utah County Repub­li­can Party, the church con­tin­ues to op­pose same-sex mar­riage.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, Ivie’s com­ing out has got­ten some crit­i­cism, most promi­nently from the Utah Ea­gle Fo­rum, a po­lit­i­cal in­ter­est group af­fil­i­ated with the late Phyl­lis Sch­lafly, the con­ser­va­tive icon who led the fight against the Equal Rights Amend­ment in the 1970s.

“This isn’t how we do things in Utah,” said the group’s pres­i­dent, Gayle Ruz­icka. “You don’t pat some­one on the back and tell them how glad you are they left their wife. We wouldn’t be do­ing that if he an­nounced he was leav­ing his wife for an­other woman.”

But Ivie has also re­ceived let­ters and emails from all over the state and the coun­try laud­ing his courage.

Some have come from gay rights ac­tivists call­ing on him to leave the Repub­li­can Party, which he says he will con­tinue to sup­port be­cause of its op­po­si­tion to big gov­ern­ment and taxes and its sup­port for gun rights.

Tan­ner Ainge, one of the two other county com­mis­sion­ers, said he was proud of Ivie’s an­nounce­ment.

“I hope this will give strength and hope to those in the LGBT com­mu­nity who have been feel­ing de­spair,” Ainge said. “I hope it also brings him peace.”

Ivie said reach­ing other peo­ple who are grap­pling with their sex­u­al­ity and may be con­sid­er­ing sui­cide is the main rea­son he spoke out.

“There is the 22-year-old ver­sion of me that is strug­gling, that is con­flicted and bat­tling over it, and they’re at a spot where death seems bet­ter than liv­ing,” he said. “I want my mes­sage to be: Keep go­ing. We need you in our homes, in our com­mu­nity and in our na­tion. You have worth and value.”

Sui­cide is the top killer of teenagers and young adults in Utah, where 124 peo­ple ages 15 to 24 — or 25 out of ev­ery 100,000 — took their own lives in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent fig­ures avail­able from the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. Only six states have higher sui­cide rates in that age group.

The strong grip of Mor­monism on Utah — about two-thirds of state res­i­dents be­long to the church — is thought to be an im­por­tant fac­tor.

"Fam­ily re­jec­tion is big in our state,” said Taryn Hi­att, who over­sees Utah and Ne­vada for the Amer­i­can Foun­da­tion for Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion. “Fam­i­lies of­ten re­ject their chil­dren or fam­ily mem­bers be­cause they’re ‘choos­ing’ to go against what God be­lieves is right.”

TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

Nathan Ivie with his golden re­triever Max and horses he trains and raises on his ranch in Ben­jamin, Utah.

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