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Layton man is first openly gay contestant on 'The Biggest Loser'

Published December 31, 2012 2:06 pm

Reality show • WSU student aims to inspire others, share struggles.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

He is gay, lives in Utah and soon could become The Biggest Loser.

Layton resident Jackson Carter will sweat it out on the reality TV show and weight-loss competition, which is set to kick off its newest season Sunday on NBC.

Dubbed the "first openly gay contestant," the 21-year-old Utahn auditioned for the show in Salt Lake City because he wanted to inspire others to be themselves, whether overweight or gay. He knows about both.

"I think the biggest thing for me, not being accepted by my peer group and fitting in, I became a people-pleaser and never took care of myself," Carter said. "I put everyone else's needs before my own. [I am now] aware of it and can try to fix it."

At 21, he weighed 328 pounds. Carter decided to do something about it by joining the show. In his eyes, he is shedding the pounds like a bulky sweater, tossing it off into the corner.

Show producers will showcase his battle in season 14, not only with his weight but also with his sexuality.

"I think Utah has come a long way the last few years, Mormons Building Bridges and other people are becoming more aware of queer issues," Carter said. "The hardest work [on the show] is not the workout. You have to deal with people who have shut themselves off from their emotions."

And dealing with those emotions can be uncomfortable.

"I don't want to do that one on one, let alone 22 million on one," said Carter of opening himself up to the country through TV cameras.

He volunteers at the Ogden OUTreach Resource Center, which helps about 350 LGBT and other youths. The majority who seek help at OUTreach live below the poverty line, and 27 percent are homeless.

"I think there are issues everywhere when coming out," Carter said. "Particularly in Utah, with a religious sect, it can be more difficult for acceptance."

Carter was born in Roosevelt, a small town on a Ute Indian reservation, and raised there with his two younger siblings before moving at age 7 to Layton.

He remembers a brief time in high school of being fit, when he transferred from public school to a charter school for the performing arts. But he has been overweight for most of his life, bullied both for his weight and his sexuality after coming out at age 14.

Today, Carter is a student at Weber State University, where he is majoring in theater education with a minor in social work, while also working and volunteering. He said a busy lifestyle resulted in his weight gain.

Once he loses weight, Carter said he looks forward to participating in physical activities with his OUTreach kids, being able to go to the beach and take his shirt off, and changing the lives of those around him who are also struggling with their weight.

Peggy Bon, volunteer co-coordinator at the OUTreach, said Carter serves as an inspiration to many with whom he shares his experiences. Carter received services at the center as a kid, but now he helps counsel teens and adults alike, she said.

"When Jackson walks into the room, everybody loves him when he's been in a room about a minute. There's just something about Jackson," said Bon, adding that he'll be a great representative for Utah's LGBT community on the show.

The new season of "The Biggest Loser" will feature three children, whose focus will be on getting healthy rather than their weight, so they will not be eligible for elimination and will not weigh-in on camera.

This season's 15 contestants will be divided into three teams and supervised by three trainers. Each trainer and team of five adults will be paired with one child participant who will compete with and contribute to their respective teams.

The adults compete for $250,000.

Carter said he hopes his story will inspire other gay teens.

"I think it's good to have positive LGBT people in the media," Carter said. "It can be scary and really hard to come out, but if you feel like you're ready, then it's a personal choice. If you're not comfortable to tell people, then you don't have to.

"The sad truth is it's not always safe, so find some supporters that you can trust," he said.

rparker@sltrib.com

Twitter: @rayutah —

'The Biggest Loser' premiere: Utah watch parties

P Sunday at 6 p.m.: Watch part one of "The Biggest Loser" from 7 to 9 p.m., with Ogden resident and contestant Jackson Carter at Marriott-Slaterville City Hall, 1570 W. 400 North in Ogden.

Jan. 7 at 6:30 p.m. • Watch part two of the season premiere at Weber State University at the Wildcat Theater Shepherd Union Building at 3848 Harrison Blvd. in Ogden.

Preview Day One • Watch Utah's Jackson Carter as he whispers, "Water." bit.ly/12Imy9J