The Utah Board of Higher Education gave unanimous support Friday to a resolution to affirm and support the Utah System of Higher Education’s LGBTQ+ community.

The resolution, a continuation of the board’s ongoing work on diversity, equity and inclusion, “acknowledges the resilience and courage of LGBTQ+ youth and young adults as they often experience higher rates of stress, depression, anxiety, isolation, difficulty with schoolwork and suicidal ideation due to experiences of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”

Tanner Marcum, a student member of the higher education board, told the board that LGBTQ+ youth and adults “are underserved, underrepresented and often misunderstood, right? It’s a catastrophic cocktail, if you will, that has mental health implications, student success implications, and nobody asked for it. But it’s the reality for so many.”

The resolution recognizes the discrimination LGBTQ+ individuals face and that they experience disproportionate rates of depression, suicide ideation, isolation and difficulty with schoolwork, said Marcum, who is a graduate student at Utah State University.

“The resolution makes that clear but also acknowledges our recognition of the incredible resilience that these youth, young adult students, faculty and staff have in the face of the difficulties that they experience,” he said.

The board adopted the resolution as the Utah Legislature voted the same day to override Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of a bill banning transgender girls from participating in female high school sports.

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Stephenie Larsen, CEO and founder of Encircle, a Utah nonprofit organization that provides support and counseling for LGBTQ+ students and their families, thanked the board for its efforts.

“I want to remind everyone that being a LGBTQ youth or being LGBTQ is not a choice, and that it is a very difficult journey for not only those who are LGBTQ but often their families,” she said during a meeting at the Mountainland Technical College’s campus in Lehi.

Larsen said advocates for LGBTQ+ youths “see a lot of self-destructive behavior from young people because of the messages that they receive throughout their lives about who they are. They feel a lot of shame and they have a lot of self-hate. ... That leads, often, to turning to drugs, alcohol and other self-harming behaviors.”

When it comes to school, “They are not their full selves because of what they are dealing with,” she said.

Since starting Encircle in 2017, one of the things the organization is most proud of is that it has not lost one of its youth to suicide, she said. LGBTQ youth are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, Larsen said.

“But merely surviving is not enough. Enircle’s mission became to bring the family and the community together to enable our LGBTQ youth to thrive. Five years later, Encircle has served over 100,000 LGBTQ youth and their parents” with the support of Utah’s colleges and universities, local high schools and junior highs, she said, adding, “The first people who showed up were BYU professors and students.”

Larsen said Utah Valley University President Astrid Tuminez has met with her several times “and is always working to find ways to better support students.”

Several partners are working to make Utah a safer and more loving place for LGBTQ youths to grow up, Larsen said.

“Utah does community so well, and I hope that soon we will be the best place to grow up LGBTQ,” said Larsen, mother of six children, three who are college-age and three in K-12 education.

Utah State University President Noelle Cockett shared a conversation she had Thursday evening with award-winning fashion designer Bibhu Mohapatra, a USU alum, who was on the Logan campus for a series of events.

During his introduction at the reception, Mohapatra’s husband, Bobby, was introduced, Cockett said.

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“Later that night, Bibhu came up to me and said, ‘I really didn’t know that was going to happen and I hope that didn’t cause you problems.’ I thought that was so sad that that was something that he worried about. But with full confidence, I could tell him that our students and those of us that work at the university and now across all higher education, support him as he is as a person,” Cockett said.

In fall 2021, USU’s Student Association passed an inclusion statement that at its heart says “You belong here,” Cockett said.

The resolution adopted Friday by the higher education board, which oversees 16 state-supported universities, colleges and technical colleges, calls for the Utah System of Higher Education to develop LGBTQ+ best practices by December 2022.

The guidance may include:

  • Institutional data collection on LGBTQ+ members of campus communities.
  • Considerations for increasing accessible gender-inclusive restroom facilities.
  • Faculty, staff and administration training and advocacy programs/procedures.
  • LGBTQ+ inclusive policy development, implementation and sustainability.
  • Name and gender marker update processes and policies, including correct/preferred/chosen name and pronouns, and ID cards.
  • Campus safety, mental health and physical health and well-being specific to LGBTQ+ students.
  • General best practices for supporting LGBTQ+ student success and sense of belonging.
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