Orem • Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds said that examples of the “divide between my religion and the LGBTQ community” had grown too personal for him to any longer shrug it off as not his problem.
He noted that his wedding ceremony, which took place in his parents’ backyard, was missing his wife’s two best friends and roommates, a lesbian couple who refused to attend knowing he was a practicing Mormon, because it took place when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was supporting California’s Proposition 8 to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples.
The former Brigham Young University student, who dropped out to form his Grammy-winning band, added that he’s also “received a ton of letters over the years from fans that’ve said, ‘I am gay, and you’re Mormon — I like your band, but I know you don’t support me, and that hurts.’ And every single time I read that has made me feel like I needed to do something to reach out to as many people as I can to let them know how I feel.”
That “something” became LoveLoud Fest, a concert featuring Imagine Dragons, Neon Trees and several other acts performing at Brent Brown Ballpark on the Utah Valley University campus in Orem on Saturday evening with the intent of raising funds for several organizations in support of at-risk LGBTQ youths.
The sold-out event drew an estimated 17,000 people to Utah County. The baseball stadium’s infield was packed. The atmosphere was energetic and celebratory.
Chammy Roses, a 24-year-old Draper man who grew up in the LDS Church, did not intend to come to the event, conceding he's “not much of a concert fan,” but is glad some friends talked him into it.
“I like that it has a little bit of a different feeling than a normal concert. There’s a nice vibe — no alcohol, very family-oriented,” he said. “... I definitely think people have the wrong understanding of what it means to be an LGBT person in the Mormon culture. I wouldn’t call it a fight, but a misunderstanding. So it’s so great seeing families come out because this is a big issue, with bullying, suicide. I love this.”
An attendee who drew some big cheers was 13-year-old Savannah, from Eagle Mountain, who recently made news for coming out as lesbian while bearing her testimony during a Mormon sacrament meeting.
From the performance stage, Savannah said she’d been invited to “speak my truth.” She thanked those who have reached out to support her, noting, ”I have had the world encourage me to keep up being a voice for us all, and I will.
“I believe I was made the way I am — all parts of me — by my heavenly parents,” she added. ”… They did not mess up when I was made to be gay.”
At a news conference at the UCCU Center a few hours before the concert, Reynolds, a Las Vegas resident, said his primary goal was simply to get people talking about LGBTQ issues.
“I decided I wanted to put together an organization whose goal is to have conversations that are sometimes painful, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes take people out of their comfort zones,” Reynolds said. “... I was taught from a young age that if you want to make a difference in the world, you start with your community.”
Reynolds is particularly concerned with doing more for LGBTQ youths, noting that the leading cause of death among teenagers in Utah is suicide.
The LDS Church teaches that while same-sex attraction is not a sin, acting upon that attraction is — a teaching that is problematic for young people already struggling to balance the ideals of their faith against their own nature.
“LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to be at risk of suicide,” said Amit Paley, the CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide-prevention services for LGBTQ young people. “And studies have shown that half of trans people have considered suicide.”
The LDS Church reached out to Reynolds in the weeks leading up to the concert, offering an endorsement via a statement of support on its newsroom website.
“Our mission is to save the lives of LGBTQ young people. That shouldn't be a controversial statement regardless of your religious background.”<br>— Amit Paley, The Trevor Project
Reynolds said that had a big impact for the festival.
“Absolutely, it has. I knew a lot of people who weren’t coming, and now they are. I have lots of friends who, once the church came out in support of this, said they were coming. I think it’s awesome,” he said. “This is an inclusive place for everybody. This is about looking into the future and not sitting in the past. There’s a lot of pain, a lot of anger, and I think that will do no good. I think that if we want to heal, we need to set aside those things and come to the table and talk about the future and progress.”
Zeke Stokes, the vice president of programs for GLAAD, which focuses on discrimination in the media, said his organization’s research suggests that “as many as 20 percent of young people now identify as LGBTQ — far more than ever before.”
Given that, he agreed the LDS Church’s statement was important.
“It’s really historic for the church to release a statement in support of this event,” he said. He added that Reynolds reaching out to get GLAAD involved with LoveLoud was a pleasant surprise: “It’s not often that a straight, Mormon rock star calls us up and says, ‘I want to help.’”
That said, Reynolds acknowledged that not everybody in the LGBTQ community agreed with his decision to accept the church’s endorsement.
Tyler Glenn, frontman of the Utah County-based Neon Trees, who is gay and a former Mormon, earlier told The Salt Lake Tribune that the statement amounted to a “PR move.”
Reynolds pointed out that he and Glenn served in the same mission area in Omaha, Neb., with Reynolds arriving right around the time when Glenn was leaving. He recalled that Glenn left behind a mixtape of songs he’d written, “and his heart was breaking in every single song. … I saw his journey and his pain and his hurt, and also his desire to have faith but also be queer.”
Reynolds said he sympathizes with Glenn but also hopes that events such as LoveLoud can bridge the divide.
“I can’t speak to the pain of anyone else, I can’t fathom the amount of hurt and pain that people have in the Mormon community who are LGBTQ, or who have lost a loved one to suicide. Their voice needs to be heard. I think we need to take a moment and put ourselves in their shoes,” he said. “That being said, this is a difficult, difficult subject, and there is a lot of pain in our LGBTQ community. I love Tyler and I respect him and everything he’s said, and I stand by him. I also stand by what I said, that I think it’s wonderful to have the church’s endorsement, because here we are today with people from all different walks of life who came out who wouldn’t normally.”
Paley agreed that was an important step, noting that “young people who most need our help are people who come from a conservative background.”
He hopes the message will start getting through more in places that it previously hasn’t.
“Our mission is to save the lives of LGBTQ young people,” Paley said. “That shouldn’t be a controversial statement regardless of your religious background.”
Reynolds intends for LoveLoud to become an annual event and for bigger, national acts to perform in future years. He also hopes to start outreach programs in schools that can help ease conversations between LGBTQ youths and their families.
While he knows that instantaneous widespread acceptance isn’t going to happen, if he can get a few more people than before to change the way they think about such issues, that’s a good start.
“Change always happens. I’m not saying that this is about changing the church or changing an organization — this is about changing the hearts of people,” Reynolds said. “I think that definitely happens with dialogue.”