'We all agree to love': Imagine Dragons' Dan Reynolds seeks a bridge to tolerance with LoveLoud Fest

Like the title of his band’s hit single, Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds is a believer. Having grown up in a conservative Mormon family, he knows firsthand about the strong cultural ties that religion can create within an individual’s psyche — and how difficult it can be to find oneself in a position where one is rejected by one’s faith, as well.

Struck by the tragic stories he’d experienced regarding the struggles that LGBTQ youth often experience in Mormon and other orthodox communities, Reynolds — a married father of three daughters — became an outspoken advocate. Last year, he created the LoveLoud Foundation with the mission of bringing communities together to celebrate individuality and support LGBTQ youth.

This Saturday (July 28), he’s spearheading the second annual LoveLoud Fest at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah, featuring his own band, as well as Neon Trees (whose frontman, Tyler Glenn, is gay and grew up Mormon), Zedd, Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, and Grace VanderWaal , along with presentation by speakers like Apple CEO Tim Cook, Julianne Hough, Tegan Quin of Tegan and Sara, and Mary Lambert. In partnership with national LGBTQ charities including Encircle, Trevor Project, and the Tegan and Sara Foundation, proceeds from LoveLoud will go directly to supporting LGBTQ youth who come from unsupportive homes or communities where they’re eight times more likely to commit suicide.

Reynolds, who still culturally identifies with Mormonism, hopes the festival will build a bridge — or at least the beginnings of understanding — between orthodox communities and the LGBTQ community, without compromising anyone’s beliefs. (For what it’s worth, the Mormon church issued a formal statement regarding the LoveLoud Fest, stating that it “applauds” Reynolds’s efforts to create dialogue on this issue.)

Yahoo Entertainment sat down with him for a revealing discussion regarding his extensive, sensitive, and tolerant knowledge of both sides.

Yahoo Entertainment: This may be a stupid question, but are you still a Mormon? If someone randomly looks up “Dan Reynolds Mormon” online, it seems as if the jury is out, honestly.

Dan Reynolds: It’s not a stupid question; it depends on what you would say is an active Mormon. I definitely still think of myself as Mormon. But Mormonism is more than just a religion; it’s also your culture. It’s what I was raised with — the roots within my body. I have many doubts about things, and there’s days that I believe certain things and days that I don’t. And there’s tons of times I’ve gone without saying any kind of prayer, or speak to a god for a long period of time — and then there’s a quiet moment where I’m like, y’know, “God? Are you there? Do you hear me?”

So I don’t have an easy answer to that. I think of myself as a kind of unique person of faith, a unique Mormon. But I’m also just looking for truth and light wherever it may be. Whether it’s outside of religion, or belief in anything. Maybe it’s just the Earth and the universe. So I see myself as a very open-minded person, but I definitely have not closed any door on Mormonism.

You have mentioned in previous interviews that you feel you were really the only one in your family who had faith-related doubts. You have a very large family of origin — you really were the only one who had any questions?

As far as I have been able to see my entire life — yes. There’s eight boys and one girl in my family, and they are all very active Mormons and have been their entire lives. They all went on missions, with the exception of my sister. Got married, had kids — so as far as I’ve been able to see since I was young, I’ve always felt I’m the only one doubting.

It’s interesting, because a fairly universal tenet of most religions is that it is acceptable and even necessary to question in order to grow within the faith.

It’s strange because actually Mormonism was founded by Joseph Smith, who supposedly, his story, he was looking at all the churches at the time and questioning them and didn’t believe any of them were true. And so he prayed to God, and God said, “None of them are true, let me help you start this church.” And so the whole formation was based on questioning what put was in front of you.

When making plans to organize the LoveLoud festival, I imagine you talked to quite a few people who shared stories regarding conflict growing up in a faith-based household.

The path for LGBTQ youth in the home of an orthodox faith can often be a very difficult path to tread. And the more that I’ve looked into this — because I’m also doing a documentary on this as well – the more that I found that it is heartbreaking to hear these stories. Children kicked out of their homes or forced to try to change their sexuality. The research has shown resoundingly that LBGTQ children that are not accepted in their home are eight times more likely to commit suicide. Three times more likely for risky drug abuse, three times more likely for promiscuous sex. We know the facts, so the question is: What can we do as a community? Religious beliefs and differences between the communities — we have to come together and do something about this.

The No. 1 reason for teen death in Utah is suicide. So this is a relevant issue especially to Utah, which is a very Mormon community. What we’re looking to do is put on a festival where there’s music, food — cool, that’s a little byproduct — but what it’s really about is the LGBTQ youth that are going to come up on the stage and speak to us about how we can be a better community and support them. I think they know that better than anyone. It’s a place to listen — it’s not an attack on religion, it’s not an attack on the church, it’s just a place as a community to go, “You know what, we can all agree that these statistics are devastating. How can we change that?” We all agree to love.

Given that you are able to “walk both sides,” what would you say is the most challenging thing in terms of attempting to create a bridge to understanding?

I think it’s like walking a tightrope. I want to create change, and when you want to create change in any way, you’re going to offend people. And that’s something I’ve just accepted from the beginning. But that said, I think to generalize is a very dangerous thing. It’s a very hurtful thing to do. For instance, to say “Mormons are bigoted.” That isn’t correct. It’s one thing to say your own personal beliefs, and another to attack a whole community of people, on either side.

So for me it’s been walking the tightrope of being an individual that both sides can feel safe coming to at an event I put on to actually make progress. If I’m just putting on an event [for] a bunch of people who already believe in loving and accepting completely our LGBTQ youth, then it’s not going to make that big of a difference. Right? It’s getting out people who never have been to an LGBTQ event, and maybe have felt too uncomfortable, or maybe because of their beliefs or how they were raised never wanted to be part of it, or maybe are just indifferent to it. Those are the people I’m trying to reach and say, “Look, this is a safe place for you to come. Nobody’s going to attack you for your beliefs. Thank you for coming to this to learn how to be a better part of our community.” And I hope that most people could at least agree on that.

It’s been tricky, and definitely I’ve gotten resistance all over the map, but that is what I wanted. I want people to talk about this in their homes. I want the child at dinner to say, “Hey, Mom, I want to go to this LoveLoud festival,” and the mom to say, “I don’t know if that’s where I want you to go.” And then they have a conversation about it. Because to have those conversations, it’s better than nothing. It’s better than everybody turning a blind eye. I’ve been blown away by how many people have reached out — who are Mormon, Baptist, very conservative — and they say, “You know what, I want to come to this. Thanks for putting this on; this is something that I’ve been curious about or something I’d want to be more educated on,” or “I believe in love, but doctrinally I don’t know where I am on this,” or whatever. There’s been a lot of people who have come out, and for me, that’s been really rad to see.

What is your best advice for LGBTQ youth who, for whatever reason, have an interest in remaining in the Mormon (or other orthodox) community? Given that there are such cultural ties to the religion of origin, is there a way to balance everything?

It’s a really difficult question, and it’s personal for everybody. I myself first and foremost want to say that I love and support and accept, wholeheartedly and completely, those LGBTQ youth. And there are millions of people around the world who do as well. As far the timing of when you want to come out to your family, it’s a personal decision that only the child knows, and way more experienced professionals can speak to than me, because there’s a lot of safety factors that go into that. But that said, I think that having events such as [LoveLoud] that are family-friendly, that bring out people from all sides, this is the way that we can at least start to stop the stigmatizing so much — and making it feel like it’s “us against them.”

And what would your advice be to any child who is growing up in the church and is starting to have doubts about his or her faith — for any reason? Doubt in an institution can be a frightening thing to experience, for anyone.

I would say that is a beautiful thing! And if you weren’t questioning, then I would be worried about you. Everyone should live a life following their intuition and their heart, and never follow a set standard put in front of them. Or else we’d never have any progress in the world. My advice would be follow your heart and your instincts. And if you’re going to hurt people’s feelings — maybe your family, and you feel you’re letting them down — that’s OK and it’s an important part of culture and evolution.

On that note: A lot of your music has been in rebellion against your family’s beliefs. How do you balance the act of rejecting or questioning things while respecting that your loved ones deeply believe them?

It’s been a difficult balance, for sure. Luckily, I have a family that’s very loving and wonderful, and though we may disagree on things, we all still get together and eat pizza at my mom’s house once a week on Sunday. They’ve been wonderful about it. There’s definitely been moments; things said. But you know.

Do you think you ever crossed a line with them?

I’m just the kind of person who doesn’t believe in having regrets about anything. Have I said things before that have upset my family in my musical career? Absolutely, I can tell you that, 100 percent sure [laughs]. That being said, it’s led to deeper conversations and understanding of each other.

This is a tough question, but given the history of the Mormon church: Do you honestly believe you will see a real change, in our lifetime, in the church’s stance on LGBTQ acceptance?

That’s a really great question. I hope. First and foremost, I hope. Because there are a lot of LGBTQ youth who are hurting right now. But with that being said, do I know they will? No. If I were to be a gambling man, do I think they will? Maybe. Just because I am an idealist, I’ll say yes. Is it going to be any time soon? I don’t know. I hope so. There are a lot of LGBTQ youth in very confused states in Mormon and orthodox homes right now.

Do you feel your personal struggles with depression have helped you be a better or more empathetic advocate for youth who are in distress?

I think that dealing with depression and dealing with feelings of guilt from lots of different places in my life have led me to a tender place in my heart for anyone who struggles with depression. As far as the path that is forged by those who are LGBTQ, I can’t even begin to fathom how hard of a path that could be and how their difficult their life can be — especially within an orthodox community. I’ve had friends who have shared stories with me that are incredibly heartbreaking. I also have friends who committed suicide because they didn’t feel there was a place for them within orthodox faith. And so I think it’s beyond my ability to fathom, but all I can do is create a platform.

Since your mission with LoveLoud is to build a bridge between differing views, and you have already proved a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community, can you also share what positive things you’ve experienced or learned from growing up in the Mormon faith?

There’s a lot of things I love and retain about Mormonism. I love the belief in family, the closeness of family. I love the ideals of sacrifice, and looking out at the world more than looking at yourself. I love the discipline of trying to live a physically healthy life. There’s a lot of things about faith that I think are beautiful.

I would love to think that there’s something wonderful after this life — that I can be with my three little girls forever. That sounds fantastic. But do I know that? I’d be lying if I said I knew that. I’ve decided to leave that pursuit and debate to other people, and put all my energy and strength into this life and what I can do here and now to leave a legacy behind to my girls that I can be proud of.

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