Love for all in Utah

Serve Daily - - COMMUNITY - By Star­bucks for Serve Daily

Dur­ing a time of in­creased di­vi­sive­ness in Amer­ica, it can be dif­fi­cult to see the good oc­cur­ring across the na­tion every day. To shed light on sto­ries of ex­tra­or­di­nary courage, Star­bucks ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Howard Schultz and se­nior vice pres­i­dent Ra­jiv Chan­drasekaran pro­duced Up­standers, a unique col­lec­tion of short sto­ries and films about or­di­nary peo­ple do­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary things to cre­ate pos­i­tive change in their com­mu­ni­ties.

Provo res­i­dent Stephe­nie Larsen is one of the eleven fea­tured Up­standers in Sea­son 2 of the se­ries. Be­low is her story.

In Utah, the lead­ing cause of death for youth be­tween the ages of 14 and 21 is sui­cide. The state’s sui­cide rate has tripled since 2007, which some ex­perts at­tribute to the Mor­mon Church’s po­si­tion on same-sex re­la­tion­ships.

Stephe­nie Larsen, a 46-year-old mother of six who grew up Mor­mon in Provo, once be­lieved gay mar­riage would de­stroy the coun­try’s mo­ral fab­ric. In her years at­tend­ing Brigham Young Univer­sity, earn­ing de­grees in fam­ily sci­ence and law, Stephe­nie says she thought it was evil to be gay.

In 2014, while on a bi­cy­cle ride in Idaho, she hap­pened to lis­ten to a pod­cast fea­tur­ing the sto­ries of gay members of the LDS church and their fam­i­lies. She heard tales of sev­ered re­la­tion­ships, ex­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and sui­cide and broke down cry­ing on the side of the road.

Some­one’s got to do some­thing to help th­ese kids, she thought.

At war with her­self over what her friends and neigh­bors would think, and of the pos­si­bil­ity that she would do more harm than good for lo­cal young gay peo­ple, Stephe­nie told her­self to be brave every day. Just be brave.

Al­most two years later, she mus­tered the courage and opened En­cir­cle, Provo’s first LGBT com­mu­nity cen­ter.

Stephe­nie be­lieved that the de­sign and spirit of the house’s in­te­rior needed to feel wel­com­ing. “We want kids to walk in and it smells like cook­ies. It smells like home. It feels like home. Peo­ple love you like you would in an ideal home.”

She also wanted En­cir­cle to be dif­fer­ent from LGBT com­mu­nity cen­ters in larger cities that some­times en­cour­age peo­ple to dis­tance them­selves from fam­ily and friends who are not wholly ac­cept­ing of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. “We are hop­ing to bring the com­mu­nity and the fam­ily to th­ese youth, to love and sup­port them,” she says.

Larsen is un­der no il­lu­sions about the chasm be­tween church lead­ers and gay peo­ple. Still, she wants to build an or­ga­ni­za­tion that can si­mul­ta­ne­ously sup­port Provo’s LGBT com­mu­nity while build­ing a con­struc­tive, re­spect­ful bridge with the Mor­mon Church. De­spite the chal­lenges, Stephe­nie says, “we are all dis­cov­er­ing there is more that unites us than di­vides us.”

“We will never say, ‘You should stay in the church,’ or ‘You should leave this com­mu­nity,’” she says. “Our ap­proach is, you need to be who you need to be to be whole. If that means you stay in the church and you live a celi­bate life, and that is what will bring you hap­pi­ness and whole­ness, then we re­spect and honor that. If you feel like, ‘I need to leave here, and I want to be mar­ried to an­other gay in­di­vid­ual,’ then we sup­port that and love that. We just want the youth to feel like they can be who­ever they want to be, and that they need to be true to them­selves, and they need to look in­side of them­selves and say, ‘This is where I will find hap­pi­ness.’”

To learn more about Stephe­nie’s story and the rest of the Up­standers, visit star­bucks.com/up­standers, or search Up­standers on Ama­zon Video Di­rect and on Au­di­ble.

Photo: Joshua Tru­jillo, Star­bucks

Stephe­nie Larsen of En­cir­cle speaks with young peo­ple in Provo, Utah.

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