Encircle, a nonprofit resource center for LGBT youth in largely-Mormon Provo, Utah, celebrated its grand opening today. A tent set up outside the home with about 50 seats for the crowd was inadequate for the throng of 200-plus who came to celebrate with Steve and Barbara Young and other dignitaries.
Utah State Senator Jim Dabakis kicked off the ceremony, recounting his youth as a closeted gay who studied at LDS-Church-owned Brigham Young University. He added that in high school, he heard friends talking crudely about seeing a gay man at the local smoke shop and then spending several days hanging around the smoke shop in hopes of seeing another gay person for the first time.
Stephenie Larsen, Encircle’s executive director, took several minutes to thank people who had made Encircle possible. She related how she conceived only vaguely of doing “something” to help the LGBT youth in her community. She reached out to her uncle, John Williams, the late owner of Gastronomy who came out after serving an LDS mission and became one of Utah’s more successful entrepreneurs. She attributed his success to the circle of love that surrounded him, making him feel welcome to be who he was.
Amy Zaharis, another of John Williams’s nieces, read a tribute to him for the role he played in the formation of Encircle before his death.
Conner Leavitt then sang “Bring Him Home” from “Les Miserables.” The song, a prayer to “God on high,” includes the following lyrics:
He is young
He is only a boy
You can take
You can give
Let him be
Let him live
If I die, let me die
Let him live
Bring him home
Heard in the context of the increasing suicide rate among LGBT youth in Utah County, the pleas take on new meaning.
Barbara Young, an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community, addressed the crowd.
Barbara’s husband, Steve Young, the Hall of Fame Quarterback, took the microphone for perhaps 90 seconds. The weekly television commentator seemed almost unfamiliar with the instrument.
He related a short anecdote, recounting a brief interaction with the hotel desk clerk last evening when checking in. The clerk asked about what brought Steve to town. He said he’d replied, “I’m in town for the grand opening of an LGBT youth resource center.”
Steve reported that the clerk responded, “That is good.” Steve then added, “And then the clerk began to cry,” the last word catching in his throat. He then concluded, “This is good.”
Katy Bettner, a part-time resident of Provo who lives most of the year in Austin, Texas, described growing up in the Baptist community. She said, they frequently spoke critically of other groups. Two of their favorite groups to criticize, she said, were Mormons and gays. She later visited an LDS Church. She note, in jest, that there were only 10 Mormons in Austin so they couldn’t afford to offend anyone. She found their services to be apolitical and joined. Just a few months later, she matriculated at BYU, where she found some of the same attitudes she thought she’d left behind. She’s stayed with the LDS Church, she says, despite her reservations. She was eager to support Encircle to help Mormons in the gay community feel there is a safe place for them.
Provo Mayor John Curtis came forward to welcome Encircle to the City of Provo, noting that the City had recently rebranded itself with a new logo and motto: Welcome Home. He said, if you’ll look closely at the signs, you’ll see there is no asterisk.” He emphasized that everyone is welcome in Provo.