PROVO, Utah (ABC4 News) – Charlie Bird has let the cat out of the bag, so to speak. The former mascot for Brigham Young University who went viral in a 2017 dance video with the BYU Cougarettes is coming out as a gay man.
Reaction to this former Cosmo Cougar coming out has been mixed, but Bird said it’s been mostly positive and supportive. Bird wrote an op-ed in the Deseret News that appeared this week, detailing how alone he felt while a student at Brigham Young University dealing with his homosexual feelings.
He found solace when he donned the Cosmo mask – a mascot that has gained popularity nationwide for its swagger and top-notch dance moves.
Bird, a dancer, and athlete, was happiest when he was Cosmo. People loved him – at least, they loved the character.
“When I put on the Cosmo mask, I have been taken up by fans in the football stadium and crowd surfed against my will,” he laughed. “This entire community made me feel like a celebrity.”
Now, Bird is asking whether his fans would still love him if they knew he was gay.
“This same community…this religious, LDS, good Christian community that loved Cosmo and loved me when I was Cosmo was the same that was creating, whether intentionally or not, this environment that made me feel defective.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns Brigham Young University, prohibits homosexual activity from its members. Students at BYU also sign an Honor Code where they agree to abstain from premarital sex including homosexual relations.
While Bird, who graduated from BYU last year, is still an active member of the church, he said there were feelings of pain associated with comments he would overhear on and off campus in Provo about LGBTQ individuals.
Bird said several people have reached out to him since publishing his op-ed saying his story empowered them to come out to their own families. He said he hopes his story can help flip the narrative of LGBTQ children, teens, church members and BYU students who feel alone.
“There can be mutual understanding between these two groups that society tells us have to be separate,” said Bird.
Cosmo’s identity has always been kept a secret by whoever is donning the cougar costume.
Bird said now, he’s taking off both masks. (And he said he had BYU’s blessing to reveal his secret identity as the mascot).
“I feel completely free right now. I don’t have to lie to my roommates about why I’m not at the basketball game…and I also don’t have to worry about what they might think of me if they found out I was gay,” he joked.
He said he hopes the love for LGBTQ individuals he sees within the LDS Church will become even more visible.
“The LGBTQ community in the LDS Church needs visible love and support,” said Bird.
Last week, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it would not oppose a bill in the state legislature to ban gay conversion therapy in the state of Utah, a practice some ecclesiastical leaders once recommended, according to some gay members of the church.
The church has since clarified its stance on the controversial practice, saying publicly it does not support efforts by therapists to change anyone’s sexual orientation. The church has also asked that guidance by religious leaders for all members to abstain from sex before marriage not be considered conversion therapy under the law.
Bird credited BYU for making big strides during his time there on LGBTQ issues. Last year, there was a public forum put on by gay students discussing what it’s like to be gay at BYU.
“There is hope and it does get better,” said Bird.
To read Bird’s guest post in the Deseret News, click here.