Imagine Dragons' Dan Reynolds on the importance of supporting LGBTQ+ youth

Dan Reynolds talks with Lyndsey Parker about LOVELOUD, his music festival that celebrates LGBTQ+ youth, and reflects on the importance of accepting young people, regardless of their sexual orientation, particularly in religious communities.

Video Transcript

DAN REYNOLDS: No child is born with hatred. No child is born with racism.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Well, I'm really happy to speak with you today, Dan. Can you explain what LoveLoud is, and what the festival is, and what its mission is.

DAN REYNOLDS: The mission of LoveLoud, in general, is to ignite the conversation, to start the conversation in homes about what it means to truly love and celebrate our LGBTQ youth. And that may sound like a simple thing, but especially in deeply religious communities, we have really seen that acceptance is not what these kids need. They need to be celebrated.

These statistics show, if you love your child, if you want them to have a healthy life, if you want them to be truly happy, which the majority of these parents do, let's talk about celebrating them and telling them they're perfect, telling them there's nothing wrong with them, that God isn't looking down on them. That's the game changer, and especially in these religious communities.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Sorry if it's a weird question, but do you still consider yourself Mormon? Do you identify as Mormon culturally? If not, do you practice?

DAN REYNOLDS: Mormonism is a lot like Judaism and a lot of other religions, and that it's very cultural. So all my family-- I have seven brothers, one sister, tons of cousins. There's 40 plus grandkids. They're all Mormon. Every one of them practicing Mormons, in fact. I'm the only one, who, I would say, is a non-practicing Mormon. I still claim Mormonism because it's my culture, right? It's my people. All my best friends growing up were Mormon.

I still are Mormon. But I'm not raising my kids Mormon. I think there's a lot of things that I disagree with, that I think is hurting our kids. And one of those things is this exact issue, which is anyone ever telling our youth that they are anything but perfect, and that loving who they love is wrong in some way, or that there's some God that's judging that. Because there is no ounce of truth to that.

LYNDSEY PARKER: You know, you were talking about how you're from such a large Mormon family. How does your family react to the fact that you're not raising your kids in that faith? Is that something that you guys even discuss?

DAN REYNOLDS: So me and my mom, it's still a running dialogue. We still have conversations, sometimes heated, but there's always love in it. And she accepts it. I think that when my kids are alone with her, she's like, let me tell you about God and Jesus Christ. But it was difficult for many years. This has been a long transition for me, and it was difficult when you have a mother, who is very, very resolute about her faith, and she feels like she's saving her kid's life.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Well, see, that brings it back to LoveLoud. The interesting thing, you said, a parent of resolute faith, who really believes that they're saving their kids.

DAN REYNOLDS: You hit it exactly on the head, which is, at the end of the day, most of these parents, the majority of them, think that they're telling their kid something that's going to help them when they say, hey, listen, God isn't OK with this. But you know, it's incorrect, obviously. And the statistics say your child is seven times more likely to take their life were not accepted, celebrated in their home or community. So when these parents really understand that and what that means, it doesn't mean, let's go to church and let's try to go to therapy, or these things that are just absolutely killing our children.

It means they are treated the exact same as your other children, they are told the same principles of God loving them if that's what they choose to do, if they're in a religious household. God loves them, and they're going to heaven. If that's your story that you're telling, you better tell all your kids that, your queer kids that. Because if you're not, then your kid is seven times more likely to take their life, and no parent wants that.

LYNDSEY PARKER: You're in a great position of privilege. You're heterosexual. You're white. You're male. You're in a huge rock band. You're wealthy. You don't have to do this. What made you want to do this?

DAN REYNOLDS: Our family and friends. That's the simple answer. Since when I was very young, I was involved in the art community deeply. And it's no secret, when you're in the art community, that most of the best artists are queer. So many of my dearest friends from a young age were, whether they were out or not, a lot of them were Mormon and not out, I watched that struggle as a teenager.

I remember being in ninth grade, and there was a kid that I knew he was Mormon. Anyway, he went in front of the Mormon Temple in his car. He drove in front and shot himself, killed himself. And it's this like toxic, toxic shaming process that happens to these kids. And so, I grew up seeing it my whole life.

LYNDSEY PARKER: When you were witnessing these things, you just mentioned about particularly that suicide-- what a horrible story-- was that a big part of your slow questioning of the religion, how you've been raised?

DAN REYNOLDS: I think my first real questioning was in sixth grade. Even when I met my wife, and we got married, when I met her, she was living with her two best friends who were queer. And they were best friends. And just because she was marrying a Mormon, they didn't come to our wedding, which I understand. So that's when I felt like, OK, I can't even stay as a Mormon. Because even if I'm speaking out about these things, simply by being Mormon and standing silently, I was an enemy to all that were striving for equality. So that hurt has taken a long time to repair. I don't know that it will ever repair for me, with my wife and her best friends, and that kills me, man. It kills me. But yeah, just stuff like that.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Obviously, you're such an open book, and you were all about having conversations. I know that during the pandemic, on social media, you were being really open about how you had decided to get sober, and you were doing daily updates about it. How has that been going, especially once you're back on the road?

DAN REYNOLDS: I appreciate you checking in on that. I am sober, and I'm not like Mr. Sober Guy. Everybody needs to be sober, yada, yada. But it helps me to have people to check in with, and our community, our fan base has been really, really helpful for that. The reasoning is really for my kids, I'd say more than anything. I'm a dad of four kids, and I just want to be a good dad.

First of all, I really hate the narrative of rock and roll and there's this glorification of drugs. And I really don't identify with that. I've had multiple friends that have died because of drug overdoses-- close friends-- starting in high school. And so, I don't see it as cool at all. There's nothing cool. Anybody who has someone close to them who is dealing with real addiction, it's not a pretty thing to see. And I'm not saying it's shameful. Absolutely, if you're-- that's why I talk about it.

The cringiest thing to me, personally, is seeing it used as something that's associated with rock in a way that's cool or something, which I grew up seeing. A lot of the bands that I liked, I felt like that was a thing. And that's part of the way that I got involved in the first place is thinking, well, this person does it. They're cool, and look at them living this extreme life. And maybe I should try that.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I mean, it's the same. It's a cliche.

DAN REYNOLDS: Yeah, if the drugs was taken out of that, then I'm cool then.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Do you mind me asking if there was any kind of epiphany or moment that made you with getting sober in the last-- how long has it been? A year about now or--


LYNDSEY PARKER: Yeah, well, congratulations again. But was there some-- was there a particular catalyst for this?

DAN REYNOLDS: You know, I think you just see your life crumbling around you. I think the definition of addiction is when you're keeping it from people that you love, right? So yeah, I think it just came to a head for me.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Tying it back into LoveLoud, obviously, I imagine in among LGBTQ youth, who are living not ideal situations in the Mormon community, ostracized by their family, kicked out, there must be a prevalence of addiction in that world because I imagine a lot of kids might turn to self-medicating when they're going through something so painful.

DAN REYNOLDS: Yeah. Well, in fact, to finish off that statistic I was telling you earlier, if you go further down the statistic, there are seven times more likely to take their life when not accepted in their home and community and also seven times more likely for risky drug use and risky sex. It's definitely a multifaceted, multi-destructive issue. And it's a simple answer, actually, which is the crazy thing, which is the simple answer is just treat our youth the same. Afford them the same respect and love, and we got to change our ways. Because we're just continually seeing our youth take their lives because we can't make simple changes.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Well, I really appreciate you and LoveLoud being a big part of the change. Once again, every time I speak with you, I thank you for everything you do.

DAN REYNOLDS: Thank you Lyndsey, always a pleasure. Thanks for having me.