Elizabeth Smart's father on coming out as gay: I can't 'look back with regret'

"I think it was very difficult to have this kind of come out of the blue," Ed Smart said of his family's reaction. "I don’t think any of them knew I was struggling with this."

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/ Source: TODAY
By Ree Hines

Last week, Ed Smart announced that he's gay, that he's divorcing his wife of 33 years and that he's parting ways with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Now, the father of kidnapping survivor and child safety advocate Elizabeth Smart is explaining why, at the age of 64, he suddenly decided to share the news and change the course of his life.

"I had a very hard time coming to that point (of coming out)," he said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. "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."

But rather than continue to live a lie, he said he realized something had to change.

Ed Smart at Utah State Prison in June 2018 after a parole hearing for Wanda Barzee, one of his daughter's kidnappers. Rick Egan / The Salt Lake Tribune via AP

"I never want to look back with regret," Smart said. "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.”

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That's what prompted him to share the news in a letter to his family and friends on Facebook.

Smart, who's worked in child advocacy since his daughter's harrowing kidnapping ordeal in 2002, later shared that letter with TODAY. In it, he wrote, "The decision to be honest and truthful about my orientation comes with its own set of challenges, but at the same time it is a huge relief."

Speaking to The Salt Lake Tribune, the father of six noted that with that relief comes the pain of knowing what some other men may be going through.

"For those men out there that are struggling in the same position, I just know it’s so incredibly hard to come out," he said. "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."

But for Smart, who married wife Lois in 1986, what he'd built his life around was a big factor in his decision to come out.

He explained, "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.”

Ed and Lois Smart with daughter Elizabeth at the White House in 2003. Ron Edmonds / AP

Lois filed for divorce July 5, according to the Tribune.

In his letter, Smart praised her as a "loyal wife, and extraordinary mother."

"I deeply regret the excruciating pain this has caused her. ... Hurting her was never my intent. While our marriage will end, my love for Lois and everyone in my family is eternal," he wrote.

He told the Tribune his decision to come out left his family "blindsided."

"They’ve been very kind to me," he told the paper. "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."

And now, in the wake of coming out, he's showing himself kindness, too.

"I no longer consider myself broken," he said.