Person 2 Person: Stephenie Larsen

Person 2 Person: Stephenie Larsen (Photo courtesy Encircle)

(KUTV) -- Stephenie Larsen is the CEO of Encircle, a resource center for LGBTQ youth and their families.

The center opened in Provo last year.

Larsen grew up as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"When I first married my husband, I would have told you that being gay was a sin, that gay marriage would ruin our country," Larsen said. "Then I got to know John Williams."

John Williams was her husband's uncle, and a restaurateur in Salt Lake City. He was instrumental in helping her start Encircle.

Larsen also saw the high suicide rates in Utah, and that many families didn't know what to do when their child was gay, and other issues. She knew there was a need in the community, with very few resources.

"We just started looking into how you could make a LGBTQ resource center that would fit into the community and be a benefit rather than pushing against people's values," she said.

Larsen believes that Utah has done better when it comes to embracing LGBTQ youth.

"It's been really encouraging, what I've seen in the past year and the amount of people who are willing to give their time and even their money to help these kids," she said.

Encircle's motto is "No Sides, Only Love."

"It's people coming together and putting all their differences aside, but agreeing that we need to love and support these kids, that their lives are valuable, that they are wonderful people," Larsen said of Encircle's goals.

She has seen all types of volunteers come through the center.

But the most surprising, she says, is "when you have Bishops show up and they say, 'I need to understand this. I have kids in my ward who are struggling with this and families who need to understand' and they feel like it begins with them."

The center opened in Utah County in 2017, which some believe may have been a challenging place to start a center for the LGBTQ community.

"I actually expected that we might be picketed, the community might try to close this place, and instead I've seen the exact opposite. I feel like I've seen the best in people," Larsen said.

Helping these kids has become Larsen's life mission.

"I couldn't quit worrying about these kids and thinking about them and how difficult it would be to grow up in my community where you feel outside of your community and misunderstood," she said. "These kids are amazing. They're extremely talented, and kind, and forgiving, and I think they should be the leaders of our community. And I guess I just felt like it was something I could do to give back and it's been a wonderful experience."

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