Nathan Ivie shared his first kiss with another boy when he was 9 years old.
By the time he was in junior high and high school, it was obvious to him that he was attracted to other men. It took him decades longer to fully accept that part of himself.
On Wednesday, at the age of 40, the first-term Utah County commissioner, Spanish Fork horse rancher and avid skier chose to publicly announce that he is gay by releasing a video on his Facebook page.
Growing up in the closet
“It really affected me growing up, as far as confusion about who I was,” Ivie said in a Tuesday interview with the Daily Herald. “Because I was biologically completely opposite of what I was taught my body was supposed to be and spiritually what I was told I was supposed to be.”
The confusion about who he was versus who he was supposed to be led to an attempt at suicide when he was 22, which eventually led to attempts to “cure” himself.
“I diligently devoted myself to trying to cure myself, to heal myself,” Ivie said. “And doing all of the things that society and my faith-based institutions had taught me to do to cure myself — going on missions, getting married, etc., etc.”
But a series of events over the last several years have led Ivie to a place where he has decided to publicly live his life as a gay man, a move that also involves amicably separating from his wife of 13 years, who he still refers to as his best friend. The two spent Mother’s Day together with their two children. Ivie said the two are committed to raising their kids in a loving environment where they feel supported.
“We’re so grateful for the life we have together and the kids we have,” Ivie said. “We have chosen to focus on that. We’ve made decisions that brought us happiness as a couple, and are continuing to bring us happiness as a couple and as a family, and especially with our children.”
Coming out in such a public way now was a combination of Ivie’s accepting that he is gay, combined with a responsibility he feels as a community leader to make sure he’s lifting up the conversation about those in the community who may not conform to typical societal standards. He wants the 22-year-old version of himself out there to know that things will be OK.
“Obviously we have a problem in our community, especially in the LGBT community, of suicide. As someone who’s been there and pulled the trigger once: don’t,” Ivie said. He paused, tears streaming down his face.
“So I recognize there’ll be people who are not OK with this, who will be very critical of my decision, of my choices,” he continued. “And I’m willing as a leader to take those stripes and those stones from those who live in glass houses, because there’s someone out there who needs to know that they’re loved and that they’re valued.”
Looking back at the past years, Ivie said he doesn’t necessarily regret waiting until he was 40 to publicly come out, because he loves the person he has become today.
“Without the experiences I went through, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” Ivie said.
A series of events over the last few years have led him to a place where Ivie said he realized nothing was fundamentally flawed, or broken about him. One defining moment was when he saw two men holding hands on a river trail in Boise.
“It was just two regular human beings who loved each other who were walking holding hands as an intimate, caring couple, and that image really stuck with me for whatever reason. And that was probably one of the first times in my life I went, ‘Maybe I’m not screwed up. Maybe I’m not broken.’”
Now, he wants to live authentically. He’s spent the last months coming out to family and close friends, to what he says is an overwhelmingly positive reception. Ivie feels his relationships with his kids have actually gotten stronger now that he’s not withholding part of himself from them.
“We didn’t hide anything from them,” Ivie said. “They understood. My boy has understood as a result that it’s OK to be different and that being different doesn’t decrease the amount of love people have for you. In fact, sometimes it increases it.”
While the news may be surprising to many people who know him, Ivie stressed that it’s something he’s lived with his whole life, and he’s still the same person he was last week, last month, last year. Being gay is just another element of you he said, like the red in his beard, or the lack of hair on top of his head.
“This isn’t my defining characteristic,” Ivie said. “It’s simply just one part of who I am. I’m the same person today as who I’ve always been. I’m committed to my core principles: faith, family and freedom.”
Impact on politics?
Ivie, who was elected to his position in an overwhelmingly Republican and religiously conservative county, said he still believes in small government, and staunchly supports the Republican Party. Believing in low taxes and being attracted to another man are not competing ideas, he said.
“I believe that within the Republican Party is the place that we find the core principles that protect individual liberty that provide people like myself, people in the LGBTQ community, the opportunity to be treated equally,” Ivie said. “... I’m still very much a Republican, even though I’m gay.”
“It’s OK to be different, it’s OK to live authentically,” Ivie said. “You can be gay and a Republican ... and this widening gap of hatred simply doesn’t need to exist.”
Having said that, Ivie said he’s not too concerned about negative political fallout from coming out. He has a record he’s proud of as a commissioner, and nothing about his political ideology has changed.
“A leader has to be willing to put themselves out there and recognize that there will be criticism, harshness, and that you can deal with those,” he said. “You can learn from them, and you move forward in a manner that rises the tide and lifts the ships of the community. I believe part of the reason I’m doing this, I believe this will help rise the tide and make our community a better place to live.”
Ivie, often seen in a cowboy hat, has often concentrated on southern Utah County rural issues since taking office. His initiatives have included creation of a new agricultural zone that does not allow for new mining operations, and floating an ordinance aimed at helping more people overcome the initial costs of farming. He’s worked on ordinances to repeal or pull back restrictive land use ordinances and business licensing.
He made headlines statewide when he threatened to pull county funding from Provo’s Freedom Festival if it did not allow LGBTQ+ groups to march in its annual Fourth of July parade. One of those groups was Encircle, a Provo nonprofit which focuses on preventing suicide among LGBTQ+ youth.
It was difficult throughout the process of advocating for Encircle and the other groups not to use the words, “Because I know,” Ivie said.
“I know what it’s like to be so afraid of losing your family, that you think death is a better option than living,” Ivie said. “But it’s not because your family loves you, and in the rare instances where they don’t, there are people who do.”
Working with Encircle was one of several defining moments that Ivie said brought him to a place of acceptance about who he is as a gay man. Hearing from moms who lost their LGBTQ kids to suicide, he realized that could have been his mom.
“That really makes you reevaluate your life, and what you’re doing as a leader to prevent that kind of stuff,” Ivie said.
For kids who are in the same place as he was as a young adult, Ivie wants them to know that they’ll be OK, and that there’s someone in the community who cares about them.
“One of my favorite reminders is that a flower doesn’t need to be reminded it’s a flower, it just blooms,” Ivie said. “Just bloom. Just be who you are and don’t fear that. Discover it, let it happen.”
For Ivie, coming out is just an extension of the openness and honesty he promised the people of Utah County when he ran for office.
“I realized that no matter what I tried to do, I was always going to fail at being the person everyone expected me to be,” Ivie said. “Now I get to be myself, and that’s liberating.”
“It’s OK to be different, it’s OK to live authentically. You can be gay and a Republican ... and this widening gap of hatred simply doesn’t need to exist.” — Nathan Ivie