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    • I've become involved in an LGBT-Mormon alliance group known as "The Hearth", which meets monthly, usually in Menlo Park, CA. Last week, Stephenie Larsen, the founder of Encircle, spoke to us. Encircle is an LGBTQ+ family and youth resource center based in Provo, Utah that serves the purpose of giving LGBTQ+ youth and their families a safe space where they can feel comfortable being their authentic selves.

      The stories that Larsen shared were both heartwarming and heartbreaking. One story that stood out is the story of a young man whose parents didn't want him around his younger siblings because they were fearful that he would have a bad influence on them because he is gay. The young man started coming to Encircle and became known as the kid who would bake cookies for everyone else. Despite being shunned from his family, the young man did his best to maintain a positive attitude and express love for those around him. Eventually, his family softened as a result of Encircle. Larsen recalls walking into Encircle one day to find the young man baking cookies with his dad.

      What makes Encircle so amazing is that there is something there for everyone. Whether you yourself identify as LGBTQ+ or if you are a parent searching for answers, there is something for you. Even more amazing is the fact that the Encircle house is located in downtown Provo, Utah, the heart of Mormon culture, which has often failed to love LGBTQ+ people for who they are.

      The reason I'm sharing this post is that I figured others might want to be aware of both Encircle and The Hearth as a possible resource either for themselves or people that they know. What got me involved is a friend of mine who is gay spoke at one of The Hearth meetings and I decided to go to show him support. I felt a really strong spirit there and have gone back ever since. As one who is straight, I feel it is important to build bridges with those who identify as LGBTQ+ and let them know that they are fine just as they are. If anyone has any comments or questions, feel free to comment below.

    • Bless you, Ben. ❤️ Mormons are such warm, loving people with a very strong sense of family. And yet... If a child comes out as gay, a significant number of LDS youth will no longer be accepted by their families and church. It's one of the most heartbreaking things I've witnessed in my life.

      I've known many gay LDS youth and the ones I've known are sensitive are and loving. They don't deserve to be ostracised like that for something they are born with. God bless the angels who take care of them.

    • Encircle has been in the news here in Utah. Last year, they were barred from participating in the Fourth of July celebration at the last minute. This year, the county commissioners have made non-discrimination a funding stipulation. Provo-ites are having a hard time trying to figure out how to keep *tight control* over their *Freedom Festival* How’s that for a crazy dilemma?

    • Completely agree.

      Amazingly (for here), there has been a very outspoken gay legislator (Jim Dabakis - elected by liberal Salt Lake voters) who has really focused the spotlight on these LGBTQ issues. Dabakis recently announced he will not run for re-election.

    • It's a shame Dabakis is retiring, no? Even some of his Republican opposition said he's a voice they need to hear. He would have been re-elected, no?

    • There are mixed feeling about Dabakis. I dare say he has alienated most of his Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle. This year has been a weird year in the legislature—several lawmakers have been informed that they probably should choose to return to private life or risk being outed for unethical practices. Rumors have it that Dabakis was on that list. I doubt he will stop voicing his opinions, although he won’t have the respectability of speaking as an elected official in the future.

      Politics in Utah. At least it’s always entertaining... :)

    • There are a few other pro-LGBTQ politicians in the state, but no one quite as outspoken as Dabakis. The mayor of Salt Lake City is an openly homosexual female. (Unfortunately, it appears she is not a very adept politician, as she has spent quite a bit of political capital playing defense, so to speak, instead of focusing on ways to move forward with vision.) Also have to give some props to the Utah County Commissioners - they made their anti-discrimination concerns very clear even in the face of a very “churchy” Fourth of July community celebration chiefly funded by the Osmonds.

      The sky-rocketing number of Utah teen suicides in recent years also prompted the governor to appoint a special task force a few months ago to figure out what has led to the uptick and how to best respond. The task force seems to be taking their assignment quite seriously.

      Utah is a state that seems to have a split personality right now re: LGBTQ issues.