Gehrke: LoveLoud illustrated the generational shift on LGBTQ issues, and shows us our future

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dan Reynolds jumps into the crowd as he performs with Image Dragons at the Loveloud Festival at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, July 28, 2018.

Sometimes progress can be a painfully slow slog; and sometimes it happens with shocking speed.

Watching the video of Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds performing for 30,000 screaming fans at the LoveLoud Festival, it was impossible not to be struck by how far we’ve come, how fast our society has transformed, and how radically different our future will be.

The young people who were packed into the LoveLoud Festival may not fully grasp the consequence of the event.

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune The Salt Lake Tribune staff portraits. Robert Gehrke.

Many of them are probably too young to remember that it was just two decades ago when the American Civil Liberties Union had to go to court after the Salt Lake City School Board sought to shut down an East High School club created to help lend support to gay students.

Just four years ago, Gov. Gary Herbert was the defendant in a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Last week, Herbert issued a proclamation declaring LoveLoud Day, praising the project for fostering “a culture of hope, unconditional love, understanding, respect, acceptance and inclusion.”

“You’re not different,” said Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox on Saturday. “We love you, period. Full stop, end of story.”

It obviously wasn’t always this way.

“People today don’t even realize how bad things were back in the 50s and 60s,” said Mark Lawrence, the founder of Restore Our Humanity, who organized efforts to challenge Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Lawrence left Salt Lake City for San Francisco in the 1980s, a time when people were still reluctant to come out of the closet.

“You just didn’t do it. Nobody would do that,” he said. “Everything was done in secret. Everything was done quietly.”

But gradually, Lawrence said, more and more people started coming out. Of course, it was still not easy, even risky. But, gradually, attitudes changed.

“The generation of young people that’s coming up now have a completely different attitude, and that’s because for the past 20 or 30 years, we’ve been coming out of the closet and getting to know people,” he said. “Thirty years ago, nobody knew any gay people. When you come out now, especially the young kids, they don’t care.”

Standing in the pit Saturday watching Reynolds perform, Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said, “There was a certain feeling of inevitability, that this is the future of our movement.”

“I think the success of LoveLoud signals a major turning point in Utah for LGBT rights.”

The effect of an event like LoveLoud was driven home, Williams said, when he was approached by a former LDS mission companion, a devout Mormon, who brought his entire family, including his 15-year-old gay son, to Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“In their heart of hearts, Mormons are a kind people who want to do good in the world,” Williams said. “And now I think so many of them are seeing the harms the culture war has wrought on their own families and they’re finally standing up and saying, ‘Enough. We need to show love and compassion toward LGBT youth.’ ”

Suicide rates among LGBTQ teens remain about three times higher than their heterosexual counterparts. A study found that figure jumps to more than eight times for youth raised in “highly rejecting” families.

But resources are being made available like never before. Groups like Encircle and The Trevor Project are providing counseling and support to young people at risk. The SafeUT app has been developed to allow any young person, regardless of sexual orientation, to get help.

Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seem to recognize there is a problem. Recently they gave a $25,000 grant to Affirmation to go toward suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth — a donation that prompted the resignation of the group’s vice president, saying she is opposed to taking money from leaders whose policies alienate gay youth and lead to depression and suicide.

Reynolds said before the LoveLoud concert that his mission was not to change LDS Church doctrine.

“We know we can’t change orthodox religion. I don’t claim to be able to do something like that,” he said. “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.”

And changing people’s hearts means that eventually even the church will change.

In May, a poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 40 percent of Mormons nationwide support same-sex marriage. But the data also signals a generational shift. Just 32 percent of LDS seniors support same-sex marriage. Among Mormons age 18-29, support is at 52 percent.

It’s those young people, many of whom were in Saturday’s crowd, who are the future missionaries and bishops in the church, and that evolution we have seen in society will eventually have to be reflected in the faith.