LGBTQ BYU alumni event encourages community

The famous BYU catchphrase “Rise and Shout” also serves as the name of BYU’s first LGBTQ alumni group.

BYU alumnus Craig Watts formed the alumni group on Facebook with a few of his friends in August. The group now has over 130 members and held its first gathering at the Encircle Family and Youth Resource Center on Sept. 24. Watts said he planned this first gathering to help raise awareness for the various LGBTQ groups forming around BYU.

The Rise and Shout event provided opportunities for BYU alumni and those who attended BYU who are a part of the LGBTQ community to meet and form a support system.

Encircle Program Director Maxwell Eddington said the purpose behind the event was to help LGBTQ people who attended BYU to connect and form a community for them. He said many of the LGBTQ BYU alumni don’t feel like they belong at other alumni events. This Rise and Shout gathering helped provide a BYU alumni experience for them.

“We want everyone to feel like they belong and that everyone is connected,” Eddington said.

The event was open to all LGBTQ BYU alumni. Representatives from BYU’s Understanding Same Gender Attraction club spoke at the event.

USGA President J.D. Goates said the mission of USGA is “to improve and save the lives of LGBTQ/SSA (Same Sex Attracted) BYU students.”

The USGA organization was created in 2010 when BYU authorized LGBTQ students to participate in groups, according to Goates. USGA has a leadership team of 40 students and is specifically geared towards BYU students, although it is open to anyone in the community. During the Fall and Winter semesters, USGA meetings regularly see 70-90 students in attendance, Goates said.

Among the guests in attendance were LGBTQ couple Tere La Giusa and Jacki Riedeman. La Giusa is a BYU alumna and is married to Riedeman. They currently live in California and have two children.

La Giusa said the most important thing is to “encircle yourself with compassionate people.” La Giusa said it is so important to have facilities like Encircle for people in the Provo community who need support.

“Places like this are vital,” Reideman said. “Safe places are so important.”

According to Riedeman, places like Encircle and events like Rise and Shout are crucial in helping people within the LDS community to understand how to support one another.

“People are no less spiritual, no less connected to Heavenly Father or the gospel just because they identify (as LGBTQ),” Riedeman said.

Utah State Senator Jim Dabakis, a former BYU student and supporter of Encircle, attended the event. According to Dabakis, this event and Encircle are great opportunities for the BYU community to be aware of the LGBTQ community.

“Sometimes it’s tough to understand issues right in front of you,” Dabakis said.

Dabakis hopes Encircle can help BYU students understand there are LGBTQ BYU students who are in good standing with BYU and who “are just like every other student out there, going for it every day.”

Rise and Shout founder Watts hopes gatherings like the alumni event will become common, spreading to places around Utah County, Salt Lake, Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City to serve more LGBTQ BYU alumni. Watts also hopes to create an LGBTQ alumni association.

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