Orem,  UT.   –   Hundreds of young people from across the state are expected to descend upon Utah Valley University this weekend for “Ignite,” Utah’s first LGBT summit.

Stephenie Larsen, executive director of the group, Encircle, notes it can be challenging for high school kids living in a conservative state. She says the goal is to give young Utahns the tools they need to build community, foster creativity and spark their passion for the future and all that they can be.

“Here in Utah, I think a lot of the youth feel isolation, loneliness; they’re afraid that people won’t understand who they are,” she explains. “And oftentimes, they feel ashamed. We want to remind them how important they are, that they’re wonderful as they are.”

Dan Reynolds, from Utah’s breakout rock band, Imagine Dragons, is set to Skype in for the event, which will also include an address by Lieutenant Gov. Spencer Cox and Utah’s openly gay state senator, Jim Dabakis.

The summit’s participants, led by college-aged mentors, will use art and music to tell their own stories, and the results eventually will be published in a book.

Larsen says at minimum, she hopes that everyone who attends will meet new friends and allies.

Larsen wants to make Ignite an annual event so that the group’s first class can return to reconnect with friends and help more young people see the possibilities that come from creating strong, supportive bonds.

Larsen adds that the challenges facing today’s young people are significant. She says suicide rates in Utah are some of the highest in the nation, and risks are even higher for the LGBTQ community.

“Suicide is now the leading cause of death for our youth,” she notes. “Suicide rates have tripled since 2007 in Utah for our youth. A lot of these kids are really facing difficult times.”

The event is free of charge, and Larsen says parents, school staff and all supportive, accepting youths – regardless of gender or sexual identification – are welcome.


Eric Galatas, Public News Service