Charlie Bird, who played Cosmo the Cougar, hopes sharing his journey will further discussion of LGBTQ issues in the Mormon church.

A former Brigham Young University student who served as his school’s mascot hopes his decision to come out publicly as gay in a newspaper essay inspires a deeper discussion of LGBTQ issues among Mormon churchgoers.

In an opinion essay published Tuesday by Utah’s Deseret News, Charlie Bird said he felt “immense pressure to hide” his sexuality during his time performing as BYU’s Cosmo the Cougar from 2015 through 2018.

“I was hyper-aware of what some of my peers said about the gay community, how they viewed same-sex attraction and the often unkind and insensitive words they used to describe LGBTQ people — people like me,” Bird, whose dance moves as Cosmo won national acclaim and went viral online, wrote. “The same community that made me feel like a superstar often simultaneously made me feel broken, unloved and defective.”

“There are many people like me who suffer in silence, struggling to reconcile complicated ideas with thoughts, feelings and religious beliefs,” he continued. “There are many who feel misunderstood and heartbroken. We never know who around us might be wearing a mask.”

Based in Provo, Utah, BYU is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). To attend, students must abide by an honor code that prohibits homosexual behavior. The Princeton Review ranks BYU as the second-most LGBTQ-unfriendly college in the U.S.

The LDS church opposes same-sex marriage, and though leaders maintain that same-sex attraction is not a sin, members are expected not to act on such feelings.

Bird, who moved to New York after graduating from BYU and now works for an international consulting firm, is hopeful his essay will encourage dialogue about LGBTQ issues among Mormons. In a Wednesday interview, he told The Salt Lake Tribune he’d received “many, many, many” messages of support from both families and other LGBTQ Mormons.

“I have somehow been blessed with an amazing platform where I can make my voice heard,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I used that platform to give a voice to people who don’t have that same opportunity, and share a very real story of what many people are going through.”

“It feels even better knowing that I don’t have to think of any more awkward excuses as to why ‘a nice young chap like me hasn’t found a wife and settled down,’” he added.

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