|Polygamy's 'lost boys' struggle to fit in|
By Rachel Olsen|
ST. GEORGE -- Almost four years after he was put on religious probation for watching movies like "Charlie's Angels" and staying out too late, Thomas Steed, 19, is working toward his GED and will be taking college courses in the fall.
Steed spent most of his life as a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. However, soon after his probation with the church began, he lived in a tool shed on a construction job site where he worked.
Barely scrapping by, Steed eventually got another job so he could support himself. Late in the year 2002, he got an appointment with FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs, where Jeffs informed him, due in part to his heritage, that he was excommunicated and would be destroyed by God.
Boys leaving or allegedly expelled from the FLDS culture recently received national attention as the so-called "lost boys."
Based in the twin communities of Hildale and Colorado City, the FLDS church is led by Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet of the church, and constitutes the largest polygamist group in North America.
After being excommunicated and struggling with different life issues, Steed received help from an organization, Diversity Foundation, which focuses on helping boys coming from the FLDS church. Diversity Foundation helped him get into a house, get an education and generally get his balance in life.
Diversity Foundation, a non-profit group, recently appealed for help for the boys. Hope For The Child Brides, another non-profit group organized to assist those leaving the polygamist culture, also applied for help.
Both groups seek assistance in helping those leaving the secretive culture and in locating those who need the assistance. Approximately 400 boys are known to have allegedly been forced out of the community in the last few years.
Lynette Phillips, director of Diversity Foundation, said the foundation formed two years ago, although founder Dan Fischer began assisting individuals from the polygamist culture 12 years ago. Fischer left the polygamous lifestyle long ago, but was known in the community. He helped more and more people as they started showing up on his doorstep.
As a growing number of boys are thrown out of the community, Phillips said the foundation couldn't handle the amount alone.
The number of boys needing help has snowballed, Phillips said.
"Do the math," she said, "a large percentage of boys have to be kept out for the polygamy lifestyle (to continue.)"
Parents abide by Jeffs' command, Steed said, leaving the children who are expelled on their own.
"The majority of people in Hildale and Colorado City are honest, hard-working people who are taught to live in ignorance of their choices and the consequences of those choices," he said.
"What I would like to see for those people, many of whom I still love and deeply care for, is to realize their own potential and that they do not need someone to tell them (if) they can be parents to their own children or not."
Phillips said Diversity Foundation needs a spectrum of assistance for those boys -- including donations, mentors, jobs and homes.
In helping those who've left the FLDS culture, Phillips said they hope to help the boys realize their dreams.
"We want them to set goals and achieve them," she said.
Elaine Tyler, a Hope for the Child Brides volunteer, said her organization seeks to find the boys to help them find programs offered in Washington County on everyday-life skills -- how to register to vote, open up a checking account and budget.
Tyler said she hoped to show those forced out or leaving the polygamist lifestyle that there are supportive people in the community.
Organizations began actively promoting awareness of the "lost boys" cause around the same time a nephew of the FLDS prophet alleged, in a lawsuit, that FLDS leaders, including Jeffs, sexually abused him. The lawsuit also names the church and the United Effort Plan and Trust, the financial arm of the church, as defendants. Jeffs apparently denied those claims in a written statement issued from his lawyer, according to an Associated Press story.
Phillips said the timing of the lawsuit and increased awareness of the reported male victims of the FLDS culture was purely coincidental.
The FLDS church traces its roots to Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After the LDS church officially denounced polygamy in 1890, some polygamists moved to Short Creek, the area now known as Hildale and Colorado City, and founded the FLDS church.
Rod Parker, a longtime attorney for the FLDS church, could not be reached for comment Wednesday regarding the validity of the expulsion claims from the "lost boys" and anti-polygamy activists.
Originally published August 5, 2004
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