Local LGBTQ Community Members Protest $8 million Encircle Project


Natalie Colby

Branson Stef speaks at the Salt Lake Encircle house on April 3, 2021. (Photo by Natalie Colby | Daily Utah Chronicle)


Gathered outside the John Williams Encircle home in Salt Lake City on April 3, protesters spoke out against the organization’s $8 million project to build new houses in four different states. 

Salt Lake City Pink Pistols founder Ermiya Fanaeian organized the protest to call for the organization to distribute the donations Encircle has received, currently totaling $4 million with a goal to double, to queer youth who need housing security, food, healthcare and education.

“They have the responsibility to utilize this money for things that are actually going to help our communities, such as housing, health care, education and food,” Fanaeian said.  

Around 20 protesters plastered papers reading, “No sides, Only Mansions” on the sign outside the house, and held signs reading “Queer youth are literally dying and Encircle would rather remodel a mansion” and “People come before property– HELP SAVE LIVES.”

Encircle was founded in 2016 by Stephenie Larsen and started opening houses in Provo in 2017. The houses provide support groups, therapy and a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth.

“The fact is that you’d have to pay for those therapy sessions out of pocket. They’re still charging for the full price,” Fanaeian said. “Really these mansions are completely performative.”

While Encircle did not respond to a request for comment, they did comment under Pink Pistols’ Instagram post about the protest.

Larsen responded to this post in a comment explaining Encircle’s goals to use these houses to create safe spaces.

“We are building these homes to give generations of LGBTQ individuals nice places to gather, a place that reflects the value of the LGBTQ individual,” the comment read. 

While Larsen’s comment stated Encircle was willing to meet with Pink Pistols to hear their demands, Fanaeian said they have reached out to Encircle several times and have not had their voices heard. 

“The reason we’re turning to protest now is because of the fact that Encircle has ignored us and has refused to redistribute those funds in the way that we believe they need to and they know that they need to,” Fanaeian said. 

Fanaeian kicked off the speeches calling on “bourgeois LGBTQ organizations” to help the basic needs of the community first. 

“Bourgeois LGBTQ organizations like Encircle use the suffering of queer and trans youth as a marketing tactic to achieve their upper-class goal,” Fanaeian said.

Branson Stef also spoke about how the majority of trans youth have suicidal thoughts, 27% attempt and how one in five transgender individuals will experience homelessness in their lives. 

“There is a hierarchy of needs that needs to be met before things like art classes and even group therapy,” Stef said. “While it’s nice that these houses that Encircle has built offer a safe place for trans youth to change their gender-affirming clothing, they don’t offer a place for trans youth to sleep when they are kicked out of their homes.”

She said Encircle’s services are a narrow, privileged view of what the LGBTQ+ community needs. 

As a trans woman, I hope that they can find a way to use their resources to help meet basic survival needs that are lacking,” Stef said. “Then, hopefully, in the not too distant future…we can build a better society and safety net so that our gay and trans youth’s biggest problems are solved, and we can enjoy a surplus of donations and support and build the best, most beautiful community centers.”

Another speaker, Brim Custen has experience working along Encircle and said the organization excuses homophobic rhetoric from the LDS Church and is non-commital with their slogan, “No sides, only love.”

“The fact that they have the influence, the power and the money that comes with being founded by a rich white Mormon person in the state of Utah is going utterly to waste with an $8 million effort to imitate the church that they love so much, and spread their own version of temples across the west side of this country,” Custen said. 

Each speaker ended with a call to action towards Encircle, encouraging them to use their money and influence to not build mansions but to provide in other ways for the LGBTQ+ community. 

“So we are here today to call upon Encircle to prove to us that they actually want to help, listen to us when we tell you our needs, do not assume that you know best,” Custen said.


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