An LGBTQ community center headquartered in conservative Provo is hosting a daylong event and welcoming all youth to join in an inclusive summit.
Since opening its doors last Valentine’s Day, Encircle’s downtown Provo office has become a destination for LGBTQ youth and young adults looking for services and support. About 69 percent of the youth who visit Encircle are from the Provo/Orem area—a region densely populated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Though not all clients have Mormon ties, many of them do, according to Encircle Executive Director Stephanie Larsen.
“The idea is to bring these youth together and help them realize they aren’t alone,” Larsen says. “So many of them feel isolation, and it’s hard to come out as a Mormon youth in Utah. We hope that by bringing them together and reminding them that they are valuable and important—and connecting them to role models—it will give them a lot of strength.”
Encircle has reached out to LDS church leaders, Larsen says, and some of the youth have been referred to the center by their ward bishops, while others come from LDS church-owned Brigham Young University.
LDS or not, Encircle is encouraging youth—who at times might feel isolated among their peers—to attend the summit next month.
The nonprofit organized Ignite that will run from noon to 8 p.m. Dec. 2 in the Classroom Building at Utah Valley University. “It’s to get them all together and show them how valuable and important they are,” Encircle’s Jacob Dunford says.
The summit will feature guest speakers Larsen, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, entrepreneur Bruce Bastian and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.
“We reached out to state government so that the youth could know that in the upper levels of Utah, there are people who care,” Larsen says. “That will be the message they deliver at the conference.”
In the wake of a tragic shooting in Orlando, Fla., in June 2016, Cox, a Republican and member of the Mormon faith, delivered a watershed speech focused on love and acceptance that spread virally and was roundly applauded in the LGBTQ community for setting the right tone.
“A lot of people were picked because they are good examples of people living lives that these kids can look up to,” Dunford says. Both Dabakis and Bastian are openly gay leaders in their communities.
Dunford notes that programming will mirror what is available at the Encircle office, with break-out groups for art classes, parent support groups, youth support groups and music, among others. “There’ll be different opportunities for kids to engage with one another,” he finalizes.
Those interested in attending, can register here.