In Provo, Utah, a gorgeous, refurbished Victorian house sits directly across the street from the Temple for the Church of Latter Day Saints. Stained glass windows let in light of every color. Rooms have been filled with books, art supplies, and couches made for comfort. Although much of the house has been remodeled, the stairs are original, and show the scuffs and wear of over a hundred years. Visitors, we were told, should know that they are just like these stairs: even with scars and damage, they’re still beautiful.
We first heard about Encircle: LGBT Family and Youth Resource Center through our friend and fellow author Kiersten White, who has been involved with the group since it began. Encircle provides a community and a safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals in and around Provo—a town where nearly ninety percent of the residents are members of the LDS church. Encircle offers individual and family counseling, art classes, community outreach programs, and various support groups that both teens and parents can attend.
The existence of Encircle would have meant the world to the two heroes of our September YA release, Autoboyography. The book is told mainly from the perspective of Tanner Scott, a bisexual teen who moves from the Bay Area to Provo, Utah, and falls in love with Sebastian Brother, the son of the local Mormon bishop. The story—which has a good deal of our hearts embedded inside—brings together issues of queer identity, community, family, and faith. It is a project we’ve been carefully thinking about for years.
One of Sebastian’s primary struggles is the extent to which he must keep his sexuality from his family and his church. Had Sebastian gone to his church elders for guidance, he would be told, it’s okay to be attracted to members of the same sex, but it is not okay to act on those feelings. Knowing this, he’s lived most of his life keeping that part of him a secret, but once Tanner comes into the picture, it becomes nearly impossible to deny this enormous part of who he is.
Because neither of us is Mormon, authentic representation was critical to us. Lauren is a bi female, having lived her entire life in largely supportive and open environments. And for Christina, living in Utah means she has friends and family who are members of the Church, and she also worked with queer LDS teens for many years. Being in Utah, it’s easy to see all of the good that the LDS Church does for the broader community, but it is also easy to see the ways that they fail. In no way did we want to paint Church members with only harsh lines.
Before drafting, in early 2016 Lauren flew to Salt Lake City and we spent a week together, building our outline and taking in as much information as we could. Accompanied by our dear friend Matty—a queer, former LDS church member—we took a fieldtrip to Provo, visited the BYU campus, researched Provo High, and did a tour of Temple Square and a few other prominent Utah/Mormon landmarks. Little did we know that while we were doing all of this, the beautiful Victorian house was being remodeled across from the Temple, and a handful of passionate advocates were making plans for what would become Encircle. By the time we returned a month before the book was released, the energetic and engaged staff members saw over sixty young adults coming through each day, finding friendship, support, guidance, and a place where they could be themselves without judgment or question. We could barely contain our enthusiasm that the LGBTQ+ teens have this support in their lives.
A framed print hangs in the entryway that reads: This home may be small, but it’s going to do big things. And it absolutely does.