The love of a parent cannot be overstated. It’s especially important when that child feels like they are misunderstood. Adam Nugent and Kate Strong present a powerful episode with Stephenie Larsen. She is the CEO and founder of Encircle, an organization dedicated to building safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth, young adults, and families. Together, they talk about the importance of sharing positive emotions in everyday lives, healthy social connections, and understanding each person’s authenticity. Learn more about Encircle and the incredible impact it’s having in communities right now in this inspiring episode!
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Before founding Encircle, Stephanie Larsen attended law school to practice family law. She worked in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill and worked hard to draft legislation to protect the traditional family. It was in Washington D.C. where she met her future husband, and her husband’s uncle would soon change her understanding of the LGBTQ+ community. In this podcast excerpt, Larsen shares how she came to found Encircle and how it strives to support LGBTQ+ youth, young adults, and families.
AN: What sparked you to actually want to pursue this?
SL: When I was working at Capitol Hill, we were drafting legislation and pushing policy that would protect the traditional family, and at the time, I would’ve told you that being gay was a sin, that people chose that lifestyle. If there would be gay or same-sex marriage, it would destroy the moral fibers of our country. I was very black on white on the subject.
So, I’m in Washington, D.C., dating my soon-to-be-husband, and I met his uncle, John Williams. That whole experience changed my life. John was gay. He grew up Idaho and grew up LDS. He told me that as a kid, he would’ve given anything not to be gay. He went on an LDS mission to London, hoping to pray the gay away. He came back from his mission and was still gay. He went to Utah State University and felt so much shame. He hated who he was. He became suicidal while he was at Utah State.
He says that his sister, Sandra, saved his life because she recognized that he was in such a bad place. He eventually comes out to his family, who embraced him and said, “You’re fine. We love you as you are. Go be John.” John made a lot of things in my life crack—a lot of my beliefs—and it started with my belief of what I thought it meant to be gay.
A few years go by and I’m living in Provo Utah. I call up John and I say, “I think living in Provo, Utah, might be one of the hardest places in the country to grow up gay. Can you help me?” He said, “Sure, what do you want to do?” Immediately, we decided that this place needed to be not in a strip mall, not a clinical feeling place, but a place that felt like home for kids that didn’t feel at home.
AN: So for those that don’t know, what is Encircle?
SL: Encircle is an LGBTQ resource center. We create homes for LGBTQ youth who may not feel at home in their communities. The homes are meant to be a safe space where youth can come after school, do homework, get a snack, do art, or play the piano. We have eight programs a week that range from art, writing, music, service projects, speaking, services for parents, and friendship circles, which are basically like support groups. At the core of Encircle is therapy.
AN: Would mind expanding on the therapy for the youth that you’re working with? What type of therapy?
SL: I believe that if a youth is not loved and accepted by their families, they spend a lot of their mental energy and time trying to get their parents and siblings and community to understand them. They believe in their hearts, “If people really knew how I felt and what was happening, they would understand and love me as I am.” Oftentimes, it can pull marriages apart because the parents don’t agree on how to best care for their child. Then the child winds up thinking that it might be their fault or that they contributed in some type of way.
KS: So, what you’re doing is bringing these people together to have discussions and find common ground and connection, and that is amazing.
SL: I think the really cool thing is that we put all of our differences aside and we recognize that the reason that people come to Encircle is to make sure that the youth know that they’re valued and loved and cared about within our communities. I think when you come into Encircle, you feel that it’s a place full of love and non-judgment.
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