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LGBTQ youth flock to Encircle house for comfort after ‘triggering’ conference talk

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PROVO, Utah (News4Utah) – After a top Mormon leader suggested Satan is behind efforts to “confuse gender” and “distort marriage,” an LGBTQ outreach group in Provo was inundated with calls and visits from gay, bi and trans Mormon youth struggling to find their place in the world, coordinators said. 

Encircle: LGBTQ Family and Youth Resource Center, an outreach group housed in a beautiful Victorian-style home in the shadow of the Provo City Center Temple, received several knocks at the door Saturday after President Dallin H. Oaks doubled down on the stance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints against same-sex marriage and gender identity issues. 

Encircle is normally closed on the weekends. 

Coordinators decided to open up the home that day – ordering food and watching movies with kids – to get their minds off the pain they were feeling. Pain that came on a weekend most faithful Latter-day Saints consider a blessing – a weekend they wait to hear inspired messages from Church leaders. 

Jordan Sgro, outreach coordinator at Encircle, said Oaks’ message was “triggering,” because it “invalidated” who gay, bisexual and transgender Mormons believe they are. 

The doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unequivocally states marriage should only be between a man and a woman. It also preaches that gender is an eternal construct, one that is given to people before birth by God. 

Oaks also said Satan is the author of any confusion on the subject.

“[The Adversary] also seeks to confuse gender, to distort marriage and to discourage child bearing – especially among families who would raise children in truth,” Oaks said. 

Oaks invoked “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”, a Church document issued in 1995; its words still apply today, Oaks said in his remarks Saturday. 

“…some are troubled by some of our Church’s positions on marriage and children,” he said. “Our knowledge of God’s revealed plan of salvation requires us to oppose many of the current social and legal pressures to retreat from traditional marriage or to make changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women. We know that the relationships, identities, and functions of men and women are essential to accomplish God’s great plan.”

In past addresses, Oaks has said “faith in the love of our Heavenly Father and the plan of salvation…” is the answer to questions related to these issues. 

Oaks went on to talk about the opposition the Church faces when it stands firm on these social issues. 

“Our positions on these fundamentals frequently provoke opposition to the Church. We consider that inevitable. Opposition is part of the plan, and Satan’s (the Adversary’s) most strenuous opposition is directed at whatever is most important to God’s plan. He seeks to destroy God’s work,” he said. 

Stephenie Larsen, founder of Encircle, said she was at the funeral of a person who had taken their own life over this very issue, when she received several phone calls and text messages saying something to the effect of “[Oaks] is doing it again.”

Sgro said his message is untrue and very damaging to an already marginalized group. 

“When the message that is directed toward LGBTQ people revolves around ‘you aren’t enough,’ ‘you aren’t important,’ ‘your experience isn’t valid…,’ I think the natural result of that is increased depression, increased isolation, increased anxiety…,” Sgro told News4Utah. 

While Oaks never said LGBTQ people are not enough or that they were not important, Sgro believes that was certainly the tone of the message. 

Oaks did refer to doctrine that states only those who enter into the covenant of celestial marriage between a man and a woman in Latter-day Saint temples would achieve the highest degree of heaven, or “exaltation.”

That message, Sgro and others said, is also very dangerous. 

In fact, social media buzzed about Oaks’ comments; some decrying them, others defending them. 

One user claimed several young Mormon LGBTQ youth were reaching out to him for help because they were having suicidal thoughts. 

Others said while Oaks could have shown more love to LGBTQ individuals, they appreciated his hard-line stance. 

Sgro acknowledged the LDS Church at times has had positive messages in public forums, asking members of the Church to reach out to LGBTQ individuals in love. An example is a recent devotional given by President M. Russell Ballard. 

“Messages like that are productive,” said Sgro. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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