Last Saturday, a record number of Utah’s youth, young adults, and their parents gathered at the Adobe Headquarters in Lehi for IGNITE 2018. The daylong event, presented by the local LGBTQ+ advocates Encircle, showcased music, research, personal experiences, and self-expression to create greater understanding and promote acceptance of LGBTQ+ youth.
During the opening ceremony, the event’s stars recalled their “coming out stories,” and expressed their gratitude at how far LGBTQ+ acceptance has come since, “the dark ages.” Local band Foreign Figures got us all waving back and forth with an indie rock cover of “Africa.”
The main focus of the event was a series of workshops for youth, teens and parents. Parents and allies of LGBTQ+ youth participated in a community-building activity on “cultural humility,” encouraged them to engage in a lifelong process of learning from diverse populations with an attitude of openness. Parents shared with each other their personal experiences with homophobia, previously-held biases, and emotional growth alongside their children.
Back at Ignite’s headquarters, I found myself wandering into the “Beyond” workshop. In a cozy room mostly filled by sheet music and a white grand piano, Foreign Figures’ lead singer Eric Michels and other special guest artists led youth and young adults in sing-alongs of Lady Gaga, Fame, and Phantom of the Opera.
The Red Carpet
The red carpet was a sort of delightful reunion of some of last summer LoveLoud Festival’s biggest guests, curators, and performers. (To read up on that jam-packed day, click here.) There was, of course, an appearance by founder and CEO of Encircle, Stephenie Larsen (who had also held a Q&A earlier for parents and allies).
Transgender rights advocate and former star of RuPaul’s Drag Race Carmen Carrera told interviewers about how self-acceptance is still an ongoing effort for her. “It does get a bit easier as you get older,” she says, as advice for youths. “I think right now things seem tough, but there’s a lot of amazing allies in our community fighting to make things better for LGBTQ youth. LGBTQ people are just so cool and awesome… I think allies are people who show up for you and they don’t even have to be asked to. They have our backs. There’s a million different ways to show up, but definitely by showing up, that’s a good place to start.”
Tegan Quin of indie-pop duo Tegan and Sara was her usual bubbly self, and spoke to me about how she has observed a shift in LGBTQ+ youth acceptance and awareness in Utah and worldwide, since this summer’s festival. One of the most substantive effects, she notes, has been a reported drop in LGBTQ youth suicide rates in the state. Watch the full video above.
Ellen star Kalen Allen admitted to us later during the holiday show that he had only earlier that day come out to his mother about his homosexuality, and was trying to be all smiles through it all. Then, he told the audience that coming out, for him, was imperative “in order to create the art that makes so much people happy… And if I don’t do that, and I begin to overcompensate, try too hard, and try to find the answers that are really very simple — and it really all comes down to being my most authentic self… I cannot come on this state; I cannot preach to you and tell you to…love yourself if I do not implement that into my own life.”
He thanks the audience for helping him get through the day’s trials: “I say all that, because I don’t think I would’ve been able to make it through today if it had not been for all of you.”
Check out more pics from that day here. Go here to learn more about Encircle’s mission, program, and volunteering opportunities.