Encircling the LGBTQ Youth of Utah “No Sides, Only LOVE”

Encircle, a center in Utah that supports LBGTQ teens, hosted its first summit, IGNITE, in early December at UVU. (Photo courtesy of Encircle)

Utah’s Encircle Summit – Encircling the LGBTQ youth, showing them love and acceptance, and celebrating the end of Conversion Therapy in Utah.

Celebrities, psychologists, teachers, and a whole lot of love. (I LOVE YOU PEOPLE).

There is a pamphlet full of old dogmatic ideas and “ways to live” handed out to teenagers in the LDS church. It is called “For The Strength Of The Youth”, mostly silly rules to ensure that LDS teenagers don’t fornicate, drink, smoke, or decide to be gay. Thus, we now have this summit “For the Strength of the LGBTQ Youth”, also called “Encircle”.  

If you have been reading my articles, by now you know that I am in Utah, and doing everything I can to help the LGBTQ community here. I have been called such an outspoken ally that I “even annoy gay people.” So, it should be no surprise that since I volunteer for the Loveloud foundation, I would have the honor of volunteering for the Encircle summit. Encircle is the sister foundation to the Loveloud foundation in Utah. Loveloud is the massive concert put together by Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, pulling the greatest LGBTQ entertainers together for a wonderful concert, to raise money for the resources for the LGBTQ youth, The Trevor Project, and others, to prevent suicides, and once a year, bring so many people together just to feel loved (and hear some great music).

Encircle is the grassroots organization, started by the wonderful Stephanie Larsen. Encircle bought a house in Provo Utah, the epicenter of Mormonism, Home to Brigham Young University, and the Mormon Missionary Training Center. In recent moves by the LDS Church to exclude, shame, and marginalize the LGBTQ community, this county has the highest amount of depression, and instability within the community. Suicides are all too common, and the intolerance and homophobia seems to be at vicious levels.

Stephanie Larsen decided to create a safe space for these children. If parents kick children out of the house for being gay, disown them, or even if a teenager is frightened, and is unsure about themselves, or unable to come out, The Encircle house is a safe place, just for these children to go, feel loved, and be provided for. Resources are there to help these kids, and welcome them, where they can’t find it anywhere else.

They have as much available as a no budget non profit can pull together. What they have accomplished is nothing short of extraordinary. Whenever there is a crisis, or announcement from the LDS Church that marginalizes the LGBTQ community, the doors are open, pizzas are ordered, and it is a gathering place for the youth, and anyone who wants to help. All involved were inspired out of a pure Christ like love for everyone, at Encircle no one is invited, all are welcome.

I was asked to photograph it for the foundation, and at the same time, Instinct was the only Non TV media outlet covering it. Encircle was celebrating the landmark moment of opening another house for the LGBTQ youth is ST. George Utah, (a town in the middle of nowhere on the way to Las Vegas). 

The grand summit was in Lehi Utah at the Adobe Corporate building, with another company Pulpit, both being great supporters of the movement, donated the use their buildings for the summit. Among the others, Nu Skin, Dominion Energy, and even “Chick-fil-A South Jordan”. (Yes you read that right)

The summit itself had everyone from the LGBTQ / Mormon community. And some wonderful celebrities from outside as well. All with one message, “LOVE EACHOTHER” “YOU ARE LOVED”, “LOVE YOURSELF”.

Welcome Message at Encircle Stephanie Larsen

One side was for the youth, with Kalen Allen, Peppermint, VINCINT, Cammie Scott, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, and many others (who, I think it’s ok that I don’t know who they all were).

 I have talked about one such speaker before, Carol Lynn Pearson. Her husband was gay, and went through the electroshock therapy in the 70s and 80s, under pressure from the church being assured that it would “cure” him. Nothing cured him or any of the other victims, he died of AIDS, with her by his side to the very end. She is the softest but loudest voice in the LDS church for the LGBTQ community, has written many books, and helped save countless lives. For the first time in my life I actually got to see her. I abused my privilege as the photographer, walked back to the speaker/celebrity area (yeah, I can do that). I walked up to her, grabbed her hand, looked into her eyes and crying, all I could say was “Thank you”. She stood up and kissed my cheek, hugged me and whispered “Tell me your story”. I told her about growing up with a gay father, who was living a double life, afraid of who he was, unable to come out, and how it destroyed us as children. We talked about it for a few minutes, and I felt another step toward closure, that I thought I already had, clearly I know now, that I have not made it there yet.

I hitched a ride to the Podium corporate campus with the director Stephanie Larsen, and getting to know her in those 10 minutes was wonderful. This woman has a huge heart, and makes it happen, her love knows no bounds.

From left to right, Nancy (my wife) Jenn, Stephanie Larsen (Founder of encircle) Amber M, Jeremy Hinks

While my wife photographed all the fun and exciting celebrities on the youth side, I photographed the panels of psychologists, Educators, BYU Star Athlete Emma Gee ( That was actually REALLY COOL, her story will break your heart, and give you so much hope). Scientists presented research about “What causes someone to be gay”, from a world renowned pathologist Greg Prince. Another BYU professor of Psychology talked about how it is not a disease, nor is it CURABLE, giving a purely scientific set of findings was very educating, explaining how people are in fact “born this way”. It gave all of us a greater appreciation for the wonderful LGBTQ youth, and community (Regardless of WHY you are the way you are, I still think you all are a beautiful gift from god to bring everyone together with love)

We heard a gay black country singer Parson James perform, (That’s quite a niche isn’t it?), several other speakers, and the rogue Chick-fil-A franchise owner, (That’s right) and her support for the community.

Parson James and writer Jeremy Hinks

The State of Utah had just signed into law the ban on conversion therapy, with the support of the LDS church. The Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox (A staunch ally himself) was able to talk about his efforts to protect our youth, and we thanked him greatly.

There was so much love there with the adults side of the summit, my wife said there was so much more on the youth side. Great speakers, Kalen Allen making everyone laugh, other YouTubers giving messages of inspiration. In all, it was a wonderful day. A young man that my wife and I had babysat as a kid was out, and an accomplished writer, he got to speak about his situation. The whole experience was a very spiritually moving day. I even got to interview Dan Reynolds briefly on the Red Carpet.

Imagine Dragons have just been crowned the greatest band of the decade, having had the most hits in the top 10 for the longest amount of time. Something ANY musician would be proud of. But Imagine Dragons work with Loveloud and Encircle is clearly where their  hearts are.

BRAVO DAN, THANK YOU SO MUCH. 

If you have it in you, go look up Encircle, see what they do, let their story hit you right in the soul, pull your heartstrings, and celebrate the wonderful LGBTQ youth.

https://encircletogether.org

 

 

What do you think?