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Gordon Monson: A former BYU athlete who is gay finds peace, at last

“This isn’t a new chapter in my life. It’s a whole new book,” Wyatt Warnick says

(Wyatt Warnick) Wyatt Warnick competing in javelin while at BYU.

On a dark spring night three years ago in an otherwise empty house, a couple of thousand miles away from home, in the City of Brotherly Love, Wyatt Warnick asked God some questions about the fear, the pain and the shame he was feeling, questions that had plagued him for years and gone unanswered.

Unheard, he thought, and unhealed, he knew, he stared, then, at a bottle of painkillers and thought maybe the pills, a whole fistful of them, would do the answering, and kill his pain. The collateral damage, though, wasn’t collateral at all. His mind and body would die alongside the hurt.

Warnick had tried other methods to garner solutions, to be “fixed,” a term he rightfully finds off-target and downright abhorrent.

He’d attempted to walk the narrow path his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints faith had required of him. He’d lived the church’s commandments as best he could, studied scripture, attended meetings, done service. He’d completed a two-year church mission in Taiwan, praying nearly every hour of every day for some kind, any kind of relief.

He’d thrown himself into sports in his hometown of Delta, Utah, where he was a star quarterback for his high school’s football team, a star shortstop for the baseball team, a star point guard on the basketball team, a star track athlete.

He’d transferred from the Air Force Academy, where he was a top javelin thrower in the Mountain West Conference, to BYU, where he thought he could thrive in his sport, earn a degree in political science and, most importantly, find a bride who would help him forget about, help cure him of his attraction for …

Man. He was absolutely spent.

Wrung out by living a double life, fatigued and full of self-loathing because he had been righteously taught to be something he wasn’t, something he couldn’t be, and, just as hurtful, what he actually was was sinful, shameful, against God’s plan for all of humankind.

He too often had covered up what he perceived after so much religiosity to be the truth: He was … broken. A cruel reject, tossed down on this terrestrial globe by God as some sort of messed-up, twisted joke.

Wyatt Warnick was gay. And at that time, he hated himself for it.

(Wyatt Warnick) Wyatt Warnick at a Phillies game.

Staying at a friend’s house in Philadelphia, where Warnick was working as an assistant track coach at Eastern University, watching and tending his friend’s dog, he stared down at that bottle of pills and wondered if it could give him the rest he hadn’t been able to find elsewhere.

Mostly, he wanted that aforementioned relief.

Warnick made it through that night, thankfully, without finding it, not that horrible, tragic kind.

He’s since discovered a better way — a way that has allowed him to embrace who he is, what he is, how valuable and worthy and great he is — in his own eyes and in the eyes of the Creator of All Things In Heaven and Earth.

At the age of 30, Warnick at long last stepped out of the closet on Thursday, Oct. 7, letting everyone in his world know what he has known for the better part of two decades now, that he is a gay man and that he is a good man and that he has never felt so much peace in his life.

Maybe his story can help others struggling to feel that same peace and also those struggling to afford those others the love and respect they need and deserve, and maybe, too, enlighten those who through the doctrine and dogma they teach and preach from positions of authority to avoid condemning those others, stop stirring in them the self-hate no human should feel.

Warnick was born in Payson, and raised in Delta, in what he describes as “Mormonville, USA,” in a devout family, his father a bishop of his ward and later a member of his stake presidency, and his mother and six sisters strict believers. He was a believer, as well.

He poured himself into sports as a kid, “100 percent,” he says, and flourished in all of them.

“There are two things to do growing up in Delta,” he says. “Hunt bunnies and play football.”

He did and he did.

“I used sports as a crutch,” he says. “It gave me a reason not to date girls.”

Warnick noticed his attraction to his same gender early on, but hid it because he heard what was said at church about such attraction and he heard the guys on the field, court, diamond and in the locker room talk disparagingly and use gay slurs. “Those words were thrown around.”

As a young teenager, Warnick had a collection of pictures of Jesse Palmer, and he looked at those pics of the former quarterback for reasons other than Palmer’s ability to drop back in the pocket and throw the ball. He knew he was gay, but knew of nobody else at his school or in his friend group who were: “There was no one I could relate to, even when I was taught to hate myself …”

He stops to tell the story of how he, wracked with guilt for his impure thoughts, took the pictures of Palmer out into his backyard and burned them because … well, you know … because.

He starts again.

“… You have to hide. You close down. I was in complete pain. I’d watch [LDS] General Conference and just wait for homosexuality being taught as a sin. There was the whole Prop 8 thing. I was suffering.

“I had to develop a double life — Wyatt the star athlete and the Wyatt no one else could know.”

Warnick did his best to stow away his feelings. And it worked, mostly, until, with no other outlet for his emotions, he was caught by his parents consuming gay porn during his junior year of high school.

That did not go over well.

“It was bad,” he says. “It caught them by surprise. Star athlete doing all the church stuff and …”

And.

It was concealed by the son and the family, further.

Warnick eventually earned a track scholarship at Air Force, and made his way through his freshman year there, fighting to make all the adjustments every young cadet — or “doolies,” as they are called — must make, with the additional one — “I was into men and didn’t know what to do with my sexuality.”

He was well aware that as things were he couldn’t hide it forever, but he hoped that changes would come, that if he lived right, he could beat his gayness, “hoping to be blessed to be attracted to women, to get ‘fixed.’”

He went on his church mission, an experience he loved, helping others, sharing his gospel with strangers, loathing himself, still, for the ongoing attractions he felt. On one occasion, during a “missionary split,” a common practice among some missionaries who split with their usual companion for an evening to proselytize with a local church member, that church member advanced on Warnick, attempting to touch his genitals. Warnick pushed the guy aside and removed himself from his presence.

“I wanted to show God that, ‘Look, I’m doing everything I can here, doing all the right things, working hard,’” he says, “so he would help me. I didn’t want to be gay. I didn’t choose this.”

(Wyatt Warnick) Wyatt Warnick

To further that effort, Warnick transferred to BYU upon his return to the States, where he continued his track pursuits, throwing the javelin, throwing it well. He qualified twice for the NCAA championships.

“I thought I would go to BYU, marry a woman who would come along and be the one I could work with, and live a more normal life,” he says. “I went on a lot of dates, but kissing girls felt like a chore. I had no interest in it.”

At a subsequent juncture, Warnick sat down and talked privately, honestly with his mother, who reacted with more understanding this time. “She listened,” he says. “Before, I’d thought I’d never be able to talk to my parents about any of this again.”

Warnick then met a woman who he drew close to, and he thought he might marry her, if she saw her way clear to it, but when he revealed the truth to her, that he was attracted to men, the relationship ended.

“I was grateful for that,” he says.

Thereafter, while studying at and competing for BYU, he quietly started dating men.

One individual, a closeted married man who worked at BYU, heard whispers about Warnick, and informed him that he was familiar with a group of gay athletes at the school. As the man visited with Warnick, he came on to him. When Warnick blocked his advances, the man threatened him, saying he would “out” the student-athlete.

He posted Warnick’s name on Craigslist, under the heading, “BYU athlete gone wild.”

In that moment, Warnick knew he couldn’t go to the Honor Code Office to report the man because, he figured, he might end up getting kicked out of school himself. So he just powered on, ignoring the episode and continuing to cover up his attractions.

“I went to BYU,” he says, “to do what I was supposed to do.”

Six months later, Warnick was called into the Honor Code Office, but he declined the opportunity to reveal himself because he was fairly sure what would happen to him.

He went on dating men in Salt Lake, a few of whom became mentors to him, advising him on how to maneuver through and handle his delicate situation.

“When you’re gay, there is no plan,” Warnick says. “I did know this by the time I was 24 or 25 — that I couldn’t marry a woman.”

A few of his close friends in Provo knew about his sexuality by then, and none of them freaked out or seemed homophobic. He felt some support and acceptance from them. “They loved me all the same,” says Warnick. “… I loved most of the people at BYU, I just wish I could have been … me.”

He could not.

He graduated from BYU in 2016 and took a job in Dallas, but while there continued on with the raging demons battling inside his head. He wanted happiness, fulfillment, acceptance, but couldn’t unload all the baggage from those long-ago lessons from his upbringing. His double life carried on, as did the unyielding shame.

That’s when he was hired as a graduate assistant coach at Eastern in Philly. And that’s when he found himself alone that dark spring night, holding that bottle of painkillers, afraid that “my family would never accept me. I thought I was going to burn in hell. I asked God, ‘Why did you do this to me?’”

What else could Warnick do? How else could he react? He’d had so much doctrine poured into his brain, the limits on how he could and should behave, what he couldn’t and shouldn’t do, and yet, right there alongside, in his heart and soul, he felt something entirely different.

What could he do?

Suffer, that’s what.

So much so that he made an attempt to go back to his roots. He took the track head coaching position at Southern Virginia University, a school filled with LDS teachers, coaches, students and … teachings. He stayed there for three years, and cloaked his true self. While he kept his secrets, he was aware enough to discover there are, as he says it, “a lot of gay kids at Southern Virginia,” just the way that “there are gay students at BYU.”

Warnick knows of at least one gay kid at BYU who died by suicide, and he can certainly relate to the reasons why that happens. Unrelenting tenets taught, language used that creates the harsh conflict that he’s all too familiar with, a feeling of being stuck in a trap with no way out, caught in hopelessness.

He took a step toward finally finding hope when he was offered and took a coaching job at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, a small Division I outfit, a progressive Catholic school that celebrates diversity among LGBTQ students. As he settled in there, he felt embraced by the community, as though he had found a new home.

The school celebrated a “Coming Out” day last week.

Warnick para-quotes a top university administrator as having said, “Some people will say we’re not as Christian here because we accept gay people. I say to that, ‘Take your ignorance somewhere else.’”

Says Warnick: “That was huge for me. I’d never come out before, still hiding everything.”

But around that same time, he made a leap, announcing that he is gay on social media. And in doing so, he found that elusive relief and something else, too, a response that knocked the wind — and the fear and the anxiety — out of him.

“This is the first time I’ve felt what I’m feeling,” he says. “I don’t have to worry anymore. No more double life for me. I know there are people out there who won’t and don’t support me, but the amount of love and support I’ve had from so many is amazing.”

Warnick’s LDS mission president was one of the first, among the many, in the wake of his announcement to say to him, “I love you.”

That — all of it — was particularly meaningful to Warnick because as waves of good love flowed over him, life gained more purpose.

He knows there are many others, far beyond him, regardless of where they live or what their religion is, young and old, male and female, who hear the words that cause suffering, the harsh rhetoric, the preachments supposedly from heaven, who are either going through the pain he went through or who will yet go through it. He’s hoping and praying now that they will be treated with understanding rather than condescension, condemnation and rejection.

For his part, Wyatt Warnick, at last, after all the years, has found his healing, his own acceptance and his peace.

“This isn’t a new chapter in my life,” he says. “It’s a whole new book. I’m learning how to grow and love myself, to live and be happy again.”

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