The man behind one of college sports’ most beloved mascots has come out as gay in an op-ed for the Deseret News.
In the op-ed, Charlie Bird, who played “Cosmo the Cougar,” the official mascot of Brigham Young University, from 2015 to 2018, reflects on the internal dilemma he faced trying to balance his sexual orientation with his Mormon faith, which frowns upon homosexuality.
“As Cosmo the Cougar at Brigham Young University, I kept the best part of my life a secret from everyone around me by wearing a mask,” he writes. “I traveled the country, performed for millions of people, took pictures with screaming fans, signed autographs and danced like no one was watching — even though everyone was.
“As scary as it seemed to dance in front of 60,000 people, an even scarier thought often crept into my mind — ‘If they knew who I really was, would they hate me?'”
Despite Cosmo’s popularity — which allowed Bird to travel, gave him a huge social media following, and allowed him to perform live on ESPN at the College Football Awards — Bird also says he wore another “mask” while he was a student at BYU: one that tried to hide his sexual orientation.
Brigham Young University, which is affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has long been known as a place that is not as accepting of divergent sexual orientations or gender identities.
In 2011, the school fired an executive producer in its broadcasting department who was making an independent documentary about being gay and Mormon after he refused to come to work because of harassment he experienced there.
Last year, the school threatened to expel a transgender student if they went forward with “top surgery” to treat their gender dysphoria.
Against this backdrop, Bird says he “pleaded with God to change my sexual orientation,” but realized after returning from a mission trip that being gay “is an integral part of who I am.” So he tried to make sure it stayed concealed while he was performing as “Cosmo.”
“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,” he wrote. “The same community that made me feel like a superstar often simultaneously made me feel broken, unloved and defective.”
Bird says that moving towards being more inclusive and accepting of LGBTQ people can make a meaningful difference in those people’s lives.
He notes that, as a member of small group of students, he was one of several who successfully convinced BYU to hold its very first discussion panel on LGBTQ issues.
Bird says he has seen some slow progress, but the LDS church, BYU, the state of Utah, and even the larger United States “still have a long way to go” when it comes to LGBTQ acceptance — pointing to a GLAAD survey that found that there has been an erosion when it comes to tolerance of LGBTQ people.
“We must recognize that members of the LGBTQ community are present and participating in both academic and religious discussions. We must learn that showing empathy and support is not a compromise of moral values. We must ‘comfort those that stand in need of comfort,'” he writes.
“As I integrate my sexual orientation with my church activity and faith in Jesus Christ, my future sometimes seems bleak and overwhelming. The family and friends who have shown me Christlike love and support, however, give me hope,” he concludes. “…[M]y newfound comfort with coming out to those around me has freed me from much of the shame and embarrassment that once seemed inseparable from my life. Doing so has allowed me to feel more fully the love of others. Doing so has allowed me to feel more fully the love of God.”
Watch one of Bird’s performances as “Cosmo the Cougar” at BYU’s 2017 game against Boise State to Ayo & Teo’s “Rolex” below:
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