Encircle plans on building a resource center just a few blocks from Wasatch High School. The newly constructed house will have a large gathering area, therapy rooms, and rooms for music and art.
“The house, of course, is a safe space; it makes it feel like home, looks like home so that these individuals have a place to come every day and feel loved and accepted, maybe when they don’t feel at home in a school or church or even their own homes,” Encircle Executive Director Stephenie Larsen told NBC News.
Larsen said the banner ruckus contributed to the non-profit organization’s desire to expand to Heber City.
“We call flags ‘political,’ yet behind every flag, there is an individual who, I believe, those flags are sending a message of acceptance and love for those who are in the community who are LGBTQ,” said Larsen.
The rainbow banners were made possible by a lesbian Heber City resident, Allison Phillips Belnap, who is a suicide survivor and a former Mormon. For the past two years, she raised the funds needed to install the rainbow banners on the city’s lampposts hoping to show support for the LGBTQ community and to support young people she fears feel alienated and at greater risk of suicide.
Heber City’s mayor welcomes the center.
“Heber is a relatively small, religiously conservative city. Over the last few years, many people have reached out to me and shared stories about the painful experiences and exclusion they have experienced living in this community, Mayor Kelleen Potter said. “Unfortunately identifying as part of the LGBTQ community still carries some stigma here. A school counselor recently told me many kids would rather take their lives than come out in Heber. It is time to do more to provide love, support, and acceptance for our LGBTQ youth in Heber Valley.”
Encircle encouraged people to create fundraisers for the center, which they say costs $350,000. That amount was successfully raised in December with matching funds from several foundations.
The Heber location will be Encircle’s fourth, along with Provo, Salt Lake City, and St. George.
More information can be found at encircletogether.org/heber