Encircle Family and Youth Resource Center—a nonprofit organization that addresses the needs of LGBTQ youth and their families in Utah—employs a revolutionary approach that focuses not just on the LGBTQ youth, but on the family. Stephenie Larsen, founder, and the center’s Executive Director stated that Encircle’s “main goal is to help support the family through trying times. We want to help the family enlarge and sustain their circle of love. We believe the most important factor in a youth thriving is for them to feel genuine love and support from their families.”

The nonprofit center serves as a hub to find resources that support the overall well-being of sexual and gender minorities, as well as provides a physical gathering place for families, individuals, and the community, to host activities that are safe and enriching. Additionally, Encircle plans to facilitate skills training, individual counseling, conflict resolution, and other resources and will model what an inclusive home might look and feel like.

Located in Provo, Utah, Encircle will open its doors in February 2017. Motivated by the number of LGBTQ youth and adults experiencing alienation from their families and communities of faith in Utah, Larsen decided to take action in order to prevent tragedy.  She explained: “kids in Utah are often scared to come out to their families for fear of being kicked out or disowned. Loneliness, depression and absolute fear overwhelm these LGBTQ kids, [as] their worlds are turned upside down and they have nowhere to turn.” Encircle was created to address the lack of support and information surrounding Utah’s LGBTQ youth and their families in the area’s predominantly LDS Utah community. 

Utah has the fifth highest rate of youth suicide in the country, with sexual and gender minority youth who experience rejection from their parents having an eight-times greater risk of suicide. Additionally, 86 percent of sexual and gender minority students also report experiencing harassment at school. Those that are LDS experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and family alienation, all of which frequently results in a loss of faith and of their spiritual support community. However, Encircle’s unique focus on the family stems from the knowledge that youth are nine times less likely to commit suicide if their family is affirming. The organization aims to give LGBTQ youth and their families the space, resources and friends they need to make healthy decisions about their futures. Their hope is that if the families are accepting—having more well-educated and positive conversations—that will trickle out into the community and eventually help change attitudes.

Encircle advocates that every single LGBTQ youth needs love and acceptance, and that knowledge and increased understanding are crucial to creating that space in homes and communities. You can learn more about the organization at encircletogether.org, or by contacting them at info@encircletogether.com.

Kyle Chilton