SALT LAKE CITY — Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie announced in a YouTube video Wednesday that he is gay, sharing struggles including a suicide attempt at age 22 that led to his decision to "get honest" with the public.
"There's no easy way to say this. I might as well just jump up and say it, I'm gay. That's my reality," Ivie, 40, says in the video titled, "A day to be honest" that lasts just over five minutes.
Ivie, a Republican, said he "will continue to serve my county as Utah County commissioner with all of my heart. I know there are haters in every area of our lives, but we cannot let that be what defines us as a community."
Utah GOP Chairman Derek Brown immediately offered support.
"Commissioner Ivie is a committed Republican whose public service has helped Utah County stay strong and fiscally responsible. We value his conservative voice, and hope that his experience will signal to others that there is a place for them in the Republican Party," Brown said.
Ivie said in the video he and his wife are dissolving their marriage and have spent long hours discussing how they can "move forward as a different kind of family to fulfill the responsibilities we took on together to our two amazing children."
He said at 9 years old, he "just felt different" because his orientation and attractions were not what was expected of him.
"I believed that there was something wrong with me and I fought from the beginning to find some way to change myself. That battle resulted in a failed suicide attempt when I was 22 years old," Ivie said.
After recovering from what he described as a near tragedy, he said he "tried to live the life that was expected of me. The truth is, I never felt comfortable in my own skin. I felt I was living someone else's life rather than my own."
Wearing a cowboy hat and speaking directly into the camera in a room decorated with horse memorabilia, Ivie said his work with horses has been one of the greatest passions in his life.
"I finally realized I spent most of my life feeling like the horse that was born defective, broken and destined for the kill pen," he said, something that has changed in recent years.
"I've come to accept while I may be different, I'm still a loving person, worthy of love, who values others and hopes to be valued. I'm as committed today as I've ever been to my faith, family and freedom."
Other openly gay Utahns have held public office, but after Wednesday's announcement, Ivie may be the first Republican to do so. A horse trainer in the small town of Benjamin, he was elected in 2016 in his first bid for public office.
In an interview, Ivie, whose term as commissioner ends next year, said he plans to continue his public service but added, 'we'll see what that looks like when the time comes."
Ivie said he "absolutely" could be elected again in the conservative county.
"It's because this is just simply one component of who I am as a person, and I hope — and I trust — people will judge me on the performance, on what I've done as their elected official," he said. "That's what the people in this county care about."
Last year, Ivie threatened to pull public funding for the Freedom Festival after several LGBTQ groups were told they couldn't participate in Provo's annual Fourth of July parade despite a nondiscrimination clause in the festival's contract.
A compromise was later reached, but Ivie said working with one of the groups involved, Encircle, a LGBTQ family and youth resource center in Provo, had a big impact on his decision to come out as a gay man.
"Having to look in the eyes of mothers and fathers who had lost children to suicide and know that could have been your mom and dad going through that grief and pain," he said in a voice raw with emotion.
"I had to really look at myself and say, 'What am I doing to help people?' If sharing my story does that, then I'm willing to take some of the stones from those who live in glass houses because I know in the end it will help someone who is struggling."
At the time, Ivie said he felt like he was "trying to win a boxing match with handcuffs on. … Part of today is being able to take those handcuffs off so we can fight for the rights of individuals better."
Now, he can speak directly from his own experience.
"The reason I'm doing this is somewhere out there today is a 22-year-old version of me and they're struggling to decide if they should continue to live, if they have value and worth. My message is for them," he said. "We need you. So keep going."
Ivie said the reaction to his coming out has been very supportive.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, a Democrat and the first openly gay member of the Utah Legislature, offered support in a tweet that referred to Ivie's description of how moved he was seeing a gay couple hold hands.
"All the best to you @IvieNathan! I (heart) how a simple act of love among strangers helped you find your truth & that you are being embraced by family and friends!" Biskupski said in her tweet.
Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge, a Republican, said Ivie's story can help others.
"My instinct is just to embrace @IvieNathan. Today I stand with him as a friend, valued colleague, and fellow Republican," Ainge tweeted. "His story will provide strength and hope to those feeling the lonely despair that almost took his life and has taken too many in our community."58 comments on this story
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said support for Ivie from other political leaders sends a strong signal to voters.
"In the context of a socially conservative political party and community, this very personal message is obviously a courageous move," Karpowitz said of Ivie's declaration, coming as "many are still working to understand this issue better."
Still, Karpowitz said, "there is a growing recognition, even in Utah County, that LGBT individuals are integral members of our families and our communities and that they deserve love and support from their fellow citizens."