Provo Pride Festival creates community, highlights LGBT resources

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Lexie Flickinger
Volunteers from Encircle hosted a booth at the Provo Pride Festival on Sept. 15 to share information about the resources Encircle provides for the LGBT community. (Lexie Flickinger)

Organizations like Encircle, Understanding Sexuality Gender and Allyship, The Out Foundation and the Queer Meals share a common goal: to provide valuable resources to Provo’s LGBT community.

These organizations had information booths at the Provo Pride Festival on Sept. 15. The festival was made up of performers, artists, vendors and charitable organizations focused on empowering Provo’s LGBT community.

“Pride is a celebration and a place to feel visible and understood,” BYU student Eliza Crofts said. “I’m here because it’s sometimes hard for me to feel like I have a place.”

The Provo Pridorganization was founded over six years ago, according to Rebekah Haws, who has been working with the group for over four years. Haws said the organization’s founders had just left Salt Lake City’s annual Pride Festival and felt a need to start one in Utah County.

According to Haws, the founders thought many people didn’t realize LGBT individuals were all over the state, not just in Salt Lake City. Haws said Provo Pride does events year-round and focuses on creating family-friendly environments and building a supportive community in Utah County.

“We’re here, we’re happy, we have beautiful families just like you do, and we deserve to be seen and to be comfortable living our truths,” Haws said. “I think more love in the world is not a bad thing.”

Provo Pride has consistently seen a growth in attendance, vendors and in organizations every year since its beginning, according to Haws.

Anne Wallace
Luann Hawker poses with her rainbow dog, Padme, at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Provo Pride booth. (Anne Wallace)

The Out Foundation is a new nonprofit which focuses on providing scholarships to LGBT students at BYU.

“As an LGBTQ student at BYU, I think its safe to say that the experience is harder than the average student’s,” said John Valdez, the foundation’s treasurer. “If we can relieve a financial burden and take that stressor off, we believe that it will help students have one less thing to worry about.”

The Out Foundation also shares the stories of LGBT alumni on its website and strives to increase awareness and visibility of the LGBT community for current students.

Understanding Sexuality, Gender and Allyship is an unofficial BYU club started in 2010. It hosts events on Tuesdays and Thursdays focused on open and accepting discussion of issues facing BYU students who identify as LGBT, as well as creating a community and a place for students to feel safe and make friends.

“I’d really like to see people be more aware that we exist and that we’re trying to build something,” said Jacob Benfell, the club’s outreach co-chair.

Another significant Provo nonprofit is Queer Meals founded by Jerilyn Pool. Pool said she moved to Utah in 2016 to help the LGBT community after a tumultuous and hostile presidential election. Pool works out of her home to provide meals and housing for members of the community in crisis, distress or in need of a safe place.

Pool has also worked with local law enforcement to foster trust between the police and the community. She said her ultimate dream is to start her own gender-neutral housing center for homeless and transitory LGBT youth.

Encircle is another group working to help Provo’s LGBT community.

“Our mission isn’t to tell people who to be or what to do. We focus on getting people mentally healthy,” said Jordan Sgro, the chief program officer at Encircle.

Encircle does this by offering subsidized therapy, organizing support groups and hosting various activities every day of the week.

The ultimate goal of Encircle is to “bridge the gap between conservative communities and LGBTQ+ individuals,” Sgro said.

Tom Christofferson, the brother of Latter-day Saint apostle Elder D. Todd Christofferson, was a key part of Encircle’s founding, according to Sgro.

Sgro said the organization’s name comes from Tom Christofferson’s experience coming out to his family, which initially wasn’t well received. Things changed when Christofferson’s mother gathered her family together and said, “We encircle every part of our family with love.”

“Chances are everybody knows somebody who identifies as LGBTQ+. People need to understand that this group of individuals is at a high risk of suicide because of the messaging around them,” Sgro said. “It’s about saving lives.”

Crisis resources are available to those in need. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text CONNECT to 741741.

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