Ed Smart talks about his decision to come out as gay

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart, talks to the media on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Salt Lake City. Ed Smart said Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, that he is a gay man and he intends to openly live his life as such, including divorcing from his wife, Lois.

Ed Smart, father of kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart, came out as gay in a letter to family and friends that quickly went public Thursday.

In that letter, which he initially intended for only family and friends, he discussed his separation from his wife, Lois, and said he didn’t feel like he had a place in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints anymore. On Friday, this nationally recognized child safety advocate spoke with The Salt Lake Tribune about his decision to now live openly as a gay man, how his coming out was portrayed in the media and how it spread and the reaction he has received.

Here are snippets of that conversation:

How he came out

“I mean, I knew that it would probably come out at some point, just because people can’t leave things alone. I did anticipate that it would happen at some time, but my intention in writing it was to try to let my friends and family know, you know my extended family ... know where things were. So, you know, I was really concerned about how the rumor mill starts," the 64-year-old said.

Smart added that he already had heard gossip about his marital status (Lois filed for divorce July 5), and he wanted to set the record straight. He was, however, discouraged by the way the story was initially framed in The Tribune and elsewhere that he made a public post on social media and then pulled it back.

“It makes it sounds like, you know, I posted on Facebook to make this statement and so forth, which, you know, I thought it would eventually come out but [making a public post], that was not my intention.”

But, he said, he didn’t feel pressured to come out, and he doesn’t feel that he was inappropriately outed by the media.

“I mean, it is what it is. And I knew that at some point in time, that would come out. I didn’t know when it would come out, and so I would rather have it come out the way that it did versus having some rumors going around, and you know the crazy way things can get twisted.”

Why he came out now

“I think that in April I started feeling like I needed to prepare something, because during Elizabeth’s ordeal, there were things said, and it wasn’t what I wanted to say, and I was not going to allow that to happen again."

(During coverage of his daughter’s 2002 abduction, two Tribune reporters sold information, some of it fabricated, to the National Enquirer, which published a story that made accusations about the Smart family, including about Ed Smart’s sexual orientation. The Enquirer later retracted the story. The two reporters were fired, and The Tribune editor at the time was replaced.)

“I had a very hard time coming to that point (of coming out). Two years ago, I was kind of coming to the realization that I wasn’t broken, that I was basically gay. And so I kept on trying to find a way of reconciling myself, and I have tried so hard. I never want to look back with regret. So I made what I feel is a very big effort to try to make sure that I won’t look back and feel like I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life.”

But, he said, it’s more than about himself. He wants others to know it’s OK to be gay.

“People say ‘well you’ve chosen it’ or ‘circumstances put you in that position,’ and I absolutely do not believe that at all. I believe that I was born that way, and that that never changed in my life. ... You know, growing up, being gay was the worst thing you could possibly have been, and I mean it’s not like what it is today,” he said.

“For those men out there that are struggling in the same position, I just know it’s so incredibly hard to come out. I was talking with someone a couple of months ago, who said to me, ‘Well, you know, Ed, the suicide rate for youth is high, but it doubles for men coming out like you,’ and I was really kind of taken aback by that, but I can certainly understand, because it’s totally disrupting what you’ve built your whole life around, and the debate about whether you should or shouldn’t, or, you know, I’ve learned that so many out there live their life, but they go out on the side, and that was something I absolutely could not do to Lois.”

On how it feels to be out

“It’s just a relief really. I no longer consider myself broken,” he said. “You know, (before coming out), I went and did basically my own reparative therapy trying to fix myself: What’s wrong with me? Why do I have these feelings? I went to the temple three or four times a week and studied and prayed and tried to fix myself.”

Where he stands on his belief in the LDS Church

Smart declined to comment more on his change in beliefs, which he referenced in his letter; however, he did offer some insights on his religious philosophy as it relates to his sexuality:

“I never identified as being gay. I mean, I realized that I had an attraction to men, but I also truly believed in the church, that you were to marry and you were to have children and that was the whole purpose of this life, and, you know, I lived that, and I tried to my best that I could.”

He added that, as far as he knows, he remains a member of the church in good standing.

How Smart’s family and friends reacted to the news

“They’ve been very kind to me. I think it was very difficult to have this kind of come out of the blue. I don’t think any of them knew I was struggling with this, so it was something they were, if you want to call it, blindsided by. I totally get that. They’ve really been very wonderful.”