Community members gathered Feb. 8 for a celebration of speeches, musical performances and house tours as Encircle opened its newest location in Salt Lake City, two years to the day after the organization opened its first location in Provo.
Encircle is a nonprofit dedicated to helping LGBT youth and families within the community by providing programs and resources. The new house in Salt Lake City is named in remembrance of John Williams, known to those involved with Encircle as a pioneer for the LGBT community. He was the first donor to commit funds to Encircle.
The grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony of the new house included performances by VINCINT, Parson James and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, along with speeches from Encircle board members, donors and members of John Williams’ family, including his nephew Nate Williams.
“I wish that John could witness the great things that Encircle is doing now. He would be so happy about the progress made by the LGBT community,” Nate Williams said.
Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox also attended and spoke about the importance of acceptance and why Encircle homes are necessary.
“Helping people to understand, helping members of the LGBTQ community to know that they are loved, to know that we want them here, that we need them and we care about them and they are full human beings — that is our message,” Cox said. “We need more love. We need more allies. And we need more houses like this.”
Encircle Board Co-chair Will Spendlove shared part of his own story at the event, recalling his journey of attending BYU, serving a full-time mission and coming out at 33 years old. Spendlove said he was extremely scared and overwhelmed but was fortunate because he had people who loved and cared about him, the same support he said Encircle aims to provide.
“We’ve seen so many people’s lives saved and enriched by Encircle. I’m truly grateful to be part of this,” Spendlove said.
Encircle volunteer Zach Grigg said after moving to Salt Lake City in July 2018, he hadn’t been able to volunteer as much as he had in the Provo location.
“Now I’ll be able to volunteer all the time because I’m like five minutes from the house. This new location is so much bigger than the original. This is huge and means we can serve even more youth in this area,” Grigg said. “It’s amazing to see how the community shows up for our LGBTQ+ youth.”
Grigg said although he loves many LGBT focused organizations, Encircle is his favorite.
“As a gay man who is also LDS it was the one organization I felt I could bring my whole self to — my sexuality and spirituality,” Grigg said.
Encircle CEO and founder Stephenie Larsen, described by one of her colleagues as the Mother Teresa of Utah’s LGBT community, was the last to speak before the ribbon-cutting.
“I hope that this home will always reflect what John Williams cared about: family, community, creativity and the arts,” Larsen said. “John always looked for the beauty in everything, and I hope Encircle will always look for the beauty in people, in situations and that like John, we will celebrate small milestones together as we learn and we grow.”
The main focus brought up by each speaker and performer was the importance of the new Encircle house for LGBT youth.
“They need to know that they are perfect as they are,” Larsen said.
Grigg said he loves their focus on the youth because they are who needs help the most.
“I would have loved to have Encircle when I was a youth and I feel blessed and privileged to be able to help to give it to LGBTQ+ kids today,” Grigg said.
The center will officially open its services to the public beginning Feb. 14. To learn more about Encircle’s programs or how to volunteer, visit www.encircletogether.org.