LOVE: LIVE AND LOUD
Imagine Dragons’ singer Dan Reynolds on how his LoveLoud initiative helps LGBT youth through music, festivals and film.
AS THE LEAD singer of one of the biggest American rock bands of the last decade, Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons probably isn’t the first person you think of as a straight ally for our community. Yet, that he is, without a doubt.
Dan, who grew up in a strict Mormon household, is the heart and soul behind LoveLoud, a live music event that raises money to fight teen suicide and encourage acceptance of LGBT youth in Mormon Bible Belt – Salt Lake City, Utah.
This year, Dan teamed up with Tegan Quinn (the gay half of Tegan And Sara) and the event raised over one million dollars for LGBTIQ charities like The Trevor Project, Encircle and The Tegan And Sara Foundation. Not only did concert goers see Imagine Dragons, Zedd, Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park), Grace VanderWaal, Tyler Glenn (of Neon Trees), Vagabon, AW, and Cameron Esposito – but Utah’s Governor, Gary Herbert, declared July 28 LoveLoud Day in Utah. Plus, the gay man who runs the world’s most successful company, Apple CEO, Tim Cook, popped by as a guest speaker.
But wait, there’s more! Dan’s new film Believer, about LGBT youth suicides in Utah, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and on HBO on in June. Clearly, Dan is a man of many rainbow colours. DNA decided it was time to get to know him! DNA: Are you still on a high from the success of this year’s LoveLoud concert?
Dan: Yeah! There was a very small team putting it together. It’s always scary. We went into the night not thinking we’d be able to raise one million dollars and then, somehow, we miraculously pulled it off.
An amazing achievement. We wish there were more straight guys like you in the world – where have you been hiding? [Laughs.] Behind the Mormon Church!
Didn’t you manage to get a statement from the Mormon Church that they vaguely supported your initiative?
Yeah. They put out a statement for the first festival really supporting it and then for the second festival they put out a vague statement. I wasn’t too happy with it and think they could have done a lot more. The thing is, for the Church to acknowledge anything LGBT is a huge step. I’ll take it, and maybe they do get it, but one of the things that I talked to them about was putting out a small statement saying, “We stay by…” which saves live and that many more Mormon parents are more loving when their child comes out to them, regardless of their theological beliefs.
What inspired you to stand up for the LGBTIQ community with LoveLoud?
I had quite a few gay friends growing up. One in particular, in middle school, was Mormon and gay and he was tormented by feeling inadequate, feeling like God was not happy with him and he was unclean, and filled with depression and anxiety and all the things that come along with that. To be a Mormon you have to do a mission, so he didn’t come out until after his Mormon mission and, even then, to this day he still struggles with acceptance and letting go of religious guilt. That’s so destructive for our
People told me when I die God is going to be mad at me for making more kids gay.
youth. It’s not just Mormonism, but all orthodox religions. I’ve lost a couple of friends to suicide over the years, one of whom was LGBT, and
I felt enough was enough. It takes such little effort for me to do something like this. I have to ask, “Why aren’t there more straight, white, heterosexual, privileged males in this industry helping out?” My answer is, I don’t know.
Did people in the music industry advise you against doing this; that it would be bad for your band?
Oh, yeah. We’ve had so many fans who’ve reached out [because their parents] have told them they can’t go to Imagine Dragons shows any more. People have told me that when I die God is going to be mad at me for making more kids gay. I knew this was going to happen and it just doesn’t matter to me.
Did it, in fact, strengthen your resolve that you were doing the right thing? [Thoughtfully.] Yeah, that’s exactly right. Especially for those who are born within the walls of orthodox religion; they need people to speak up and say, “You’re not awful, you are clean, pure and beautiful!” It needs to be from within because I know how people in orthodox religions are. When someone yells at them from the outside they just shut the door. But when someone, a fellow Mormon and a public figure, yells from inside the house it makes them listen, at least for a bit. The majority of people are good-hearted people and it’s just their lack of education. It doesn’t even come down to bigotry; they literally don’t know anyone who is gay so they are indifferent to it. The statistics clearly show that if a child is not accepted in the home or by their community, they are much more likely to take their life. That one statistic alone should be enough for all moms and dads of orthodox faiths to accept and love their kids immediately if they come out to them. They should not have a choice on that.
Apart from the music and the concerts, you’ve also created the documentary movie, Believer on the same subject.
I had an incredible therapist who told me it’s very important to speak your truth, and I had not been doing that. I really believed in this film very strongly these last few years.
You have three young daughters…
Yes, and as they grow up and find out about what their dad does I don’t want them to know me for just singing songs. I want them to know that I stood by my truths and used the privileged I was given to, hopefully, perpetuate change for the better.
Some in the community find it hard to accept a straight man being involved in this. Director, Joel Edgerton, who is straight, has been criticised for making Boy Erased, a movie about gay conversion therapy. What’s your take on that?
I think it’s very important that LoveLoud is not
a platform for white, straight males or other allies to pat themselves on the back and say, “Oh, okay, I’ve done my part, I’m helping!” It needs to be a platform to shine a greater light on our LGBT youth. I knew this would be a fine line to walk. It’s important to provide your platform when you’ve been given the privilege to be a window. When the sun needs to shine in a certain direction, and you’re looking to help, it’s best to be a window and let that light shine through you. I know Imagine Dragons have a lot of orthodox religious fans, and I knew I had an opportunity to speak on this issue and create change about something I felt strongly about.
How do you envisage making that light burn even brighter?
At next year’s event, we want the entire line-up of artists and speakers to be LGBTIQ. We want the leadership of LoveLoud to be 90 per cent LGBTIQ. Allies are important and it’s a tricky line to walk, but it’s important that people’s motives are correct. I knew that people on the far left and the far right would have questions on this. I know my truth and my reasons.
We thank you for that because you’ve made something happen. Sometimes you just have to follow your heart.
Are there plans to expand LoveLoud to other cities and countries in the future?
That’s the goal. There are a lot of places in the world that are desperate for this. Brazil needs this, Russia needs this desperately – and we are fearless. We doubled our attendance and the income that we raised for charities in one year. The sky is the limit, but we have to be very cautious as we grow.
Your mom must be very proud of you. [Chuckles.] I appreciate that.
Brazil needs this, Russia needs this desperately – and we are fearless.
“LoveLoud is not a platform for white, straight males to pat themselves on the back and say, ‘I’ve done my part, I’m helping!”