Imagine Dragons' singer says his LoveLoud Festival — which brought 30,000 to Rice-Eccles Stadium — is all about heart

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Loveloud Founder Dan Reynolds says a few words to the crowd at the start of the Loveloud Festival in the early afternoon, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, July 28, 2018.

In 2017, the inaugural LoveLoud Festival — a concert event conceived by Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds to raise awareness, support and money for at-risk lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths — drew 17,000 people to Orem’s Brent Brown Ballpark.

For Saturday’s follow-up, more than 30,000 people flooded Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

Asked what that indicated to him about the progress of a state where the predominant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — a faith he is a part of — teaches that to act on same-sex attraction is a sin, Reynolds clapped his hands enthusiastically and let out a whoop.

“The people and the community want to love our LGBTQ youth. Period. And that’s the goal of LoveLoud,” he said in a red carpet event hours before the concert began. "We’re not trying to change doctrine. We know we can’t change orthodox religion. I don’t claim to be able to do something like that. My mom said to me, ‘What do you think, you’re gonna change the Mormon church?’ No. But I know enough Mormons, and I believe in the hearts of people enough that, if we all talk, I think they’ll realize we need to do better and we need to change.

“I was taught as a Mormon that the heart comes first. I was not taught ‘prophet, then heart.’ Right?” he added. “I can tell you about false prophets. If a prophet tells you not to do it, well, what does your heart say? My heart says this is wrong. So I’m following my Mormon teachings!”

The steps made so far and the steps that must come next were familiar refrains during a pre-concert news conference.

Lance Lowry, a Draper native who last year served as the LoveLoud Festival’s executive director and now holds that same role with the LoveLoud Foundation, marveled at how far the organization has come.

“One year ago at this time, we didn’t have a venue, we didn’t have any sponsors,” Lowry said. “Now, we’re about to play in a football stadium in Utah in front of 30,000 people who put their money where their mouth is.”

Reynolds, among others, wanted to push the narrative forward, though.

“The ultimate goal is that we don’t have to have a LoveLoud Festival at all,” he said. “LGBTQ people should not have to continually explain why they love who they love. … So the ultimate goal is to not have this need to be a thing.”

In the meantime, though, Lowry broached the possibility of taking LoveLoud “to wherever it’s needed.”

Tegan Quin, a member of the Canadian pop duo Tegan and Sara who is a Lesbian and who became one of the festival bookers this year, pointed out: “This is a problem all over the country, all over the world — not just in Utah.”

Stephenie Larsen, CEO and founder of Encircle — an LGBTQ family and youth resource center, which is based in Provo and will soon expand to Salt Lake City and St. George — noted that she gets emails every day from young people in Alabama, in California, reaching out for support and advice.

A study by the Family Acceptance Project concluded that “lesbian, gay and bisexual youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.” And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that suicide is the second-leading cause of death in the United States for teenagers.

“This is a public health crisis — not just in Utah but across the country,” said Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youths. “LoveLoud is sending the message — you are not alone, and you are beautiful the way you are.”

Several speakers touched on the frequently stated idea that for people struggling to reconcile their sexual identity with an oft-contradictory religious upbringing, achieving better mental health can be as simple as disavowing a religion.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tyler Glenn performs at the Loveloud Festival at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, July 28, 2018.

Tyler Glenn, singer of the formerly Utah County-based alt-rock group Neon Trees and a former LDS Church missionary, said that cutting ties with the church was ultimately his best option.

“It has been a hard journey; I don’t think it’s hard anymore. I just discovered it’s not true," he said. “It doesn’t serve anything that I am now. For years, they told me that I’m flawed, for years, they told me that who I am is wrong.”

Others pointed out, however, that not everyone can get to that point, nor should they have to.

“Often, religious communities tell LGBTQ youth, ‘You have two choices: You can stay in the closet, hide yourself and be a part of our church; or you can be cast out forever.’ A choice like that is no choice at all,” said Jeffrey Marsh, an author who writes about gender queerness and gender fluidity. “It’s almost like a choice between life and death. An LGBTQ young person who has to choose between their family, their friends, their school or their own happiness — what an awful, evil, false choice. We should live in a world where LGBTQ youth are loved and accepted and have the support system they need to live a full and happy life.”

“It’s an extremely important message that you can be a person of faith and also LGBTQ,” Paley added. “They’re not mutually exclusive.”

The LDS Church endorsed last year’s event, but it did not renew its support for this year’s festival.

Reynolds grew fiery when talking about people telling him on social media that all the effort he was putting into LGBTQ support was unnecessary — that gay people have gotten enough attention and seen enough social change, and the issue is passé and played out.

“That is one of the saddest things to me,” he said, his jaw clenched. “That is not a truth.”

Many of LoveLoud’s invited speakers could personally attest to that.

Quin, of Tegan and Sara, recalled an ex-girlfriend from a conservative community whose parents hacked into her email to confirm their relationship, then banished her from their home unless she agreed to change.

Grammy-winning songwriter Justin Tranter, who took up a music career behind the scenes after his band Semi Precious Weapons was dropped from one too many labels, recalled being copied on an email to a video editor that said, “Hey, can you please edit out this shot and this shot and this shot because Justin’s hands are moving in too effeminate of a way?” He alternately called the experience “heartbreaking,” “soul-crushing” and “a bit of a mind-[expletive].”

Paley, meanwhile, noted that conversion therapy is legal in 37 states: “Young people are being sent to torture to erase their sexual identities.”

However, while there was an air of grim determination at all the work still left to do, there was also a prevailing hopefulness. After all, there were thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people pouring into Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday for LoveLoud.

Yes, its leaders acknowledged, some were there just to catch a musical bill featuring the likes of Imagine Dragons, Zedd, Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda and teen singer-songwriter Grace Vanderwaal. But many others of varying backgrounds, religions, and sexual and gender identities bought tickets simply because the proceeds would go toward raising $1 million to benefit local and national LGBTQ charities such as Encircle, The Trevor Project, and the Tegan and Sara Foundation.

“I wanna see the headline, ‘Most Mormon state in the U.S. now has the lowest suicide rate for LGBTQ youth,’” Reynolds said. “I wanna show the world that this can happen in the last place you would ever think.”

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