Power In Unity. No Sides, Only Love
Over the Rainbows: St. George Celebrates Pride Week, Launches Encircle Center Construction
By Marianne Hamilton
This fall, these two phrases will resonate throughout St. George as Pride Week kicks off on September 15, and the new Encircle Family and Youth Resource Center continues its construction. With a full slate of family-friendly activities on tap during the annual Pride event, organizers hope every resident will be a part of the celebration. At the same time, the Encircle team looks forward to welcoming local LGBTQ+ youths upon their new facility’s completion next year.
Since Pride Week was first observed in Dixie four years ago, the event has expanded dramatically, said Stephen Lambert, director of Pride of Southern Utah. This year’s edition, being presented under the banner of “Power In Unity,” offers a number of new ways for the community to come together in support of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. From an interfaith service kicking off the festivities on Sunday to a bowling night on Tuesday to a “silent dance party” on Thursday to the gala festival in Vernon Worthen Park on Saturday, there’s sure to be an event for everyone to enjoy.
“It’s really important to us to have that sense of ‘family’ at our festival,” said Lambert, grandfather to three children under the age of five. “Many of us, especially those of us who were raised in the Mormon faith in Utah, got married and had kids and then came out later in life. So we want to make sure that everyone feels like this is a place where they can bring their families, be safe, and have a good time.”
While planning Pride Week, Lambert adds that he and his team received extraordinary support from the City of St. George. “They have been unbelievably helpful in all of this,” he confirms. “Support Services Director Marc Mortensen, City Attorney Shawn Guzman, Special Events Coordinator Karen Roundy, the Parks Department staff, and most especially Mayor Pike—we couldn’t ask for a more supportive staff. They’ve all gone out of their way to help us.”
“Ultimately, people matter most!” St. George Mayor Jon Pike noted. “It’s important to me that everyone feels welcome, safe, and included here in St. George. Organizations and events that focus on helping people, including our LGBTQ+ friends and family members, are deserving of our support.”
Local residents wishing to demonstrate their own support for Pride Week can enlist the aid of the Rainbow Project: In exchange for a fifteen-dollar donation, Rainbow Project volunteers will journey from Salt Lake City to St. George and install an iconic rainbow flag in each donor’s front yard for the duration of the week, with all proceeds directed to Pride of Southern Utah. (At press-time, Lambert said more than 150 flags had already been ordered.)
In addition to the Pride Week activities, members of the LGBTQ+ community seeking resources now can find a new page on the Pride of Southern Utah website. Listings will be updated frequently and will include links to counseling services, LGBTQ+-friendly businesses, and other information. “We are so excited and hopeful,” Lambert said. “The people of St. George have been extremely welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community. We’re very grateful to everyone for their support.”
That gratitude is echoed by the team spearheading the construction of the third Encircle Family and Youth Resource Center, scheduled to open its doors next Valentine’s Day. Following on the success of prior Encircle sites in Salt Lake City and Provo—where the latter center served more than 10,000 LGBTQ+ youths last year—Founder and Chief Executive Officer (and former Capitol Hill attorney-turned-child-advocate) Stephenie Larsen said she also has found a welcoming environment in St. George and feels the timing is ideal for the new center’s construction (its slogan: “No Sides, Only Love”).
“The mayor, the city attorney…everyone here has been amazing!” Larsen enthuses. “When we started the demolition of the historic house downtown that will become the Center, people came out of the woodwork to help us. We’ve been thrilled at the community’s participation; there are just wonderful people here.”
The nonprofit Encircle centers offer a range of services to LGBTQ+ youths and young adults, including free and subsidized counseling, support groups, opportunities to create communities, and more. Their greatest value, Larsen said, is that the facilities offer a place where those coming to terms with their sexuality can feel safe and understood and know they’re not alone. “We never turn away anyone who needs therapy,” she said, citing the sobering statistic that LGBTQ+ youth are approximately four times as likely to attempt suicide as their peers. According to the Utah Department of Health, Larsen adds, Utah has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the nation with St. George above the state’s average.
“We make sure that our counseling services are affordable, and everyone is seen on a case by case basis,” explained Larsen. “Ultimately, we hope the new center will be a safe place for LGBTQ+ kids to hang out, do their homework, and eat out of the fridge.”
Then laughing, Larsen concludes, “Our Provo center sees sixty individuals a day in what used to be an 1,800-square-foot home. When it’s packed full of noisy, happy kids…that’s the sign of a really good day for us.”
For the complete schedule of Pride Week activities, visit https://www.prideofsouthernutah.org/events.
For more information about Encircle, visit https://encircletogether.org/stgeorge.