11 lives were lost in 11 days. For the LGBTQ community in Utah, enough was enough.
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It was the summer of 2017 when a small community in Utah watched in horror as 11 people took their own lives in 11 days.

All photos provided by Starbucks.

One after the other, the state had been struck with a wave of LGBTQ suicides, shaking the queer and transgender community to its core.


"These are the kids who feel like God doesn’t love them, their parents won’t understand, their community won’t understand who they are," local Utah resident Stephanie Larsen explains.

This sense of isolation has only fueled youth suicides in the state.

"Suicide is now the leading cause of death for young people in Utah, and the suicide rate has tripled since 2007."

Seeing that LGBTQ youth in her own city desperately needed a safe place to go, Larsen founded Encircle, a resource center in Provo, Utah.

"The reason for Encircle is to keep kids alive," Larsen says.

Having watched so many LGBTQ youth take their own lives, Larsen knew something had to give. “[I wanted] to give these kids a safe space to be, so they can grow up and have time to think about 'Who am I? Who do I wanna be?'"

Encircle offers support groups, counseling, speaker series, and most importantly, a sense of affirmation and togetherness to LGBTQ folks in Provo and beyond.

"We can help them have a safe place to be [and] move the community to better understand these kids and their families," Larsen says.

And she believes that this understanding is possible after having lived it herself. It wasn’t that long ago that she herself harbored prejudice of her own. "But life changed, and experiences changed me," she explains.

And as an "all-American Mormon," if change was possible for her, she believes that change can happen in Provo, a city known for being one of the most conservative in the country.

"[We] meet them where they are and help us all progress and become better," Larsen says.

Having only been open six months, the center has already changed lives.

Donna Showalter, whose son Michael is a regular at Encircle, says the center has made a real difference in their lives.

"When I was running for student body president, an account was made about me being gay," he says. "[They said,] 'Whatever you do, don’t vote for Michael Gaywalter. We don’t want our school being run by a f*ggot.'"

This experience terrified Donna, who feared for his life as the harassment escalated.

"There was a time when we were really worried about Michael’s safety," his mother says. "There was always the thought in my mind that he might not come back."

"I would text him, 'Where are you?' And he would say, 'I’m at Encircle,' and I would instantly stop worrying," she says.

"That pit in my stomach would go away instantly. I knew that he was safe."

"I really feel like Encircle literally saved his life," she says.

And this, of course, is what Encircle is all about — creating a space where youth are safe to be their whole selves.

When Larsen created the center, she envisioned a place where LGBTQ youth could show up as they are without having to leave their community and their families.

"We will never tell any of the youth who they should be," Larsen explains. "Our approach is, you need to be who you need to be ... and they need to look inside of themselves and say, 'This is where I will find happiness. And this is where I will be whole and complete.'"

For the 11 LGBTQ people who lost their lives last summer, that’s a wholeness they were never able to find. But in a small house in Provo, Utah — a safe haven in a city that so often feels like a small town — each and every day, there’s a reason for hope.

For the youth of Encircle and the families and friends who love them, nothing is ever easy. But together, they can at least know it’s not a journey they’ll be taking alone.

Learn more about the incredible work happening at Encircle:

Upstanders: Love for All in Utah

At one point, she thought homosexuality was evil. Then life happened, and she made it her mission to make LGBTQ youth feel safe and loved.

Posted by Upworthy on Monday, November 20, 2017
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Often, parents of children with special needs struggle to find Halloween costumes that will accommodate medical equipment or provide a proper fit. And figuring out how to make one? Yikes.

There's good news; shopDisney has added new ensembles to their already impressive line of adaptive play costumes. And from 8/30 - 9/26, there's a 20% off sale for all costume and costume accessory orders of $75+ with code Spooky.

When looking for the right costume, kids with unique needs have a lot of extra factors to consider: wheelchair wheels get tangled up in too-long material, feeding tubes could get twisted the wrong way, and children with sensory processing disorders struggle with the wrong kind of fabric, seams, or tags. There are a lot of different obstacles that can come between a kid and the ability to wear the costume of their choice, which is why it's so awesome that more and more companies are recognizing the need for inclusive creations that make it easy for everyone to enjoy the magic of make-believe.

Created with inclusivity in mind, the adaptive line is designed to discreetly accommodate tubes or wires from the front or the back, with lots of stretch, extra length and roomier cut, and self-stick fabric closures to make getting dressed hassle-free. The online shop provides details on sizing and breaks down the magical elements of each outfit and accessory, taking the guesswork out of selecting the perfect costume for the whole family.

Your child will be able to defeat Emperor Zurg in comfort with the Buzz Lightyear costume featuring a discreet flap opening at the front for easy tube access, with self-stick fabric closure. There is also an opening at the rear for wheelchair-friendly wear, and longer-length inseams to accommodate seated guests. To infinity and beyond!

An added bonus: many of the costumes offer a coordinating wheelchair cover set to add a major boost of fun. Kids can give their ride a total makeover—all covers are made to fit standard size chairs with 24" wheels—to transform it into anything from The Mandalorian's Razor Crest ship to Cinderella's Coach. Some options even come equipped with sounds and lights!

From babies to adults and adaptive to the group, shopDisney's expansive variety of Halloween costumes and accessories are inclusive of all.

Don't forget about your furry companions! Everyone loves to see a costumed pet trotting around, regardless of the occasion. You can literally dress your four-legged friend to look like Sven from Frozen, which might not sound like something you need in your life but...you totally do. CUTENESS OVERLOAD.

This year has been tough for everyone, so when a child gets that look of unfettered joy that comes from finally getting to wear the costume of their dreams, it's extra rewarding. Don't wait until the last minute to start looking for the right ensemble!


*Upworthy may earn a portion of sales revenue from purchases made through affiliate links on our site.

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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