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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?

      http://kuer.org/post/utah-county-will-fund-freedom-festival-long-money-not-used-discriminate#stream/0

    • 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.

    • Wow, what an amazing resource for the community in Provo. The story of the father and son reconnecting is encouraging that prejudice can be overcome: ignorance and fear seems to have been the root cause of the son’s banishment.

    • Fear and ignorance, yes. But also religious indoctrination that has been around since the beginning of the church's establishment. The church teaches that families can be together forever in the afterlife, and it's the one big carrot keeping people on the straight and narrow path. But only the family members that stay true to the church are granted this reward. Historically non-heterosexual tendencies have always been way off the path. And for the most part, in the church's view incompatible with the church and the reward of eternal family. So you had a choice to make: suffer in silence and chase the carrot, or live authentically and forsake the church. Unfortunately, going against the church holds the most weight for a lot of people and it's enough to feel like there's no point in sustaining the relationship without the religion to bind them together.

    • As an active LDS member, I’m fully aware of the pain that can be caused by the eternal family doctrine. It’s a beautiful message and I’m grateful for it, but it’s not an easy message for those that are single and especially LGBTQ+. It can be hard for them to feel like they have a place in the church. Even married members without kids often feel this way.

    • It wasn't my intent to be critical of the doctrine or the church in general - although I am. It does sound like an inviting message on the surface. I was just pointing out to @StephenL that's there's more to it than just ignorance when it comes to the seemingly irrational actions of those who would rather sever ties than hold onto a family member. It's a deeper problem. I do hope that in time we will see changes in this area.

    • Discrimination is not an “easy message” for a LOT of people, not just singles, the childless, and LGBTQ+ individuals.

      Is “the eternal family doctrine” just a euphemism for discrimination? Everyone on this earth is part of a family—why wouldn’t an “eternal family doctrine” apply to everyone?

      Why not? Because someone somewhere decided that some people must be excluded in order for there to be “winners” and “losers” i.e. “exalted” and “damned.” Various groups have been identified as such throughout the church’s history. Today, the church is targeting LGBTQ people as the damned. Who will be next?

      🤷🏼‍♀️

    • The church has improved in this area. They have more room for improvement for sure, but things have gotten better. On my mission, I read a talk from the early 80s in the Ensign that mocked single people for not being married. It basically said "Do you want to be angels for eternity praising all the married people who have become gods?" My jaw dropped to the floor when I read it because it felt so wrong.

      Later on, Howard W. Hunter, a future president of the church, clarified that eternal marriage won't be denied to any worthy individual. Even if that opportunity doesn't come in this life. So, that was real progress. That certainly applies to single people who are seeking a member of the opposite sex to marry.

      As for LGBTQ+ members, it's much tougher becuase the church doesn't condone same-sex marriage. I think what the church needs to emphasize is what you said. That all of us are members of God's eternal family and that in and of itself gives us a lot of value and eternal worth.