Editor’s note: Deseret News reporter Morgan Jones spoke at length with Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds about the upcoming LoveLoud concert in support of LGBTQ youth. This interview has been edited for content and clarity as he goes indepth on his views on life, his faith, the concert, and his desire to make a difference in people’s lives.
Deseret News: First of all, with this LoveLoud concert, what was the genesis of the project? Whose idea was it and how did it come to be?
Dan Reynolds: It was my idea. It’s really been something that’s been on my mind for probably the last couple years. Whenever I do interviews with press about the band, when people would bring up whether or not I was Mormon, it often made me uncomfortable. It was just an uncomfortable question for me because though I am Mormon and I identify as Mormon, just like every Mormon, I’m a unique Mormon. I have my own personal views on things and my own faith struggles and things like that so I typically would shy away from it.
But one of the reasons that I had a hard time talking about it was I knew where my heart stood as far as, you know, what I thought about God and God’s relationship with the LGBTQ community. I know that that’s a divided issue within orthodox faith and I never want to point a finger at anybody and say, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ or anything like that because a lot of things are so subjective and I respect people and their own personal views and their own personal spirituality.
But with that being said, I’ve lost a few friends to suicide throughout the years and on top of that, some of my friends are LGBTQ and the suicide rate for the LGBTQ community is higher and so, because of that I’ve wanted to do something and I just have been trying to find the right way to do it and it’s a difficult thing. It’s a line, it’s a hard tightrope to walk to not make anybody feel attacked, to make everyone feel like they have a voice but to also, the goal is to just create a safer community, not just for our youth but also for our LGBTQ youth.
DN: I understand that Steve and Barbara Young are involved with the organization of this event, correct?
DR: Yes, Steve and Barb Young are part of Encircle Together, they’re kind of boots on the ground in Utah for helping families that have a child who is LGBTQ and providing a safe haven for them and guidance on communication throughout that process and how to have a safe home.
They’re familiar with this and I’m new to this world so I’m continually trying to educate myself to know the best way to approach this to do the most good. And Steve and Barb are great at that so they are a big part of the event. I’ve been on phone calls with them for months and for hours and hours trying to navigate the correct way to do this.
DN: So far, how has this project been received by the public and what do you hope to accomplish through it?
DR: I think it’s very early but there have been mixed emotions and I understand why to some degree. This is a hot button issue and this is something that people are divided on, especially within the community of orthodox religion, not just the Mormon faith but the Baptist faith and Muslims so it goes beyond just Mormons.
And even people beyond the walls of faith, there are a lot of people who are atheist or agnostic and even them, some that are conflicted when it comes to their view of the LGBTQ community and what they feel. My only regret thus far that I feel like I have made a mistake is I don’t, I absolutely don’t believe that Mormons are bigoted people at all.
And I did an interview with Billboard where I think, when you’re doing interviews and…especially when I’m talking out of passion and I’m someone who speaks just from my heart and without thinking sometimes, things can be skewed and they can be put into a way that can be hurtful to people so when the Billboard article came out I understood how it could be perceived as hurtful for Mormons feeling like I was judging other Mormons … and for that, I am regretful. I don’t believe that Mormons are a bigoted people.
Obviously, my family are all Mormons, a lot of my dearest friends are Mormons and I’m Mormon so I think that what I was trying to communicate is my own personal spiritual view which is, and I can’t shy around this because this is just me being honest, that I believe that it is not sinful to be gay. That’s my own personal belief but with that being said, I also respect the other views of other people, I understand that a lot of times some of the kindest, most loving people come from the most conservative backgrounds as well as from the far left.
People are people regardless of where they come from. And so, I didn’t mean to make a blanket statement towards Mormons and I feel like it came across as that.
I’ve definitely had some people who have reached out and been upset with me and that just comes with the territory and I knew that that would be the case. So it’s hard for me, this is difficult ground to tread. What I would say is what LoveLoud is about is bringing our community together to talk about how we can love our LGBTQ youth, how we can make them feel accepted and loved within the community so that these suicide rates drop…
DN. You said you still identify yourself as a Mormon. Do you regret at all your affiliation with the church?
DR: No, absolutely not. I don’t regret my affiliation with the church because it’s an open-door policy. If you want to leave a religion, you can leave a religion. But it’s not just my faith, it is also my culture. And I’m sure most Mormons can understand that religion is more than just going to church on Sunday for Mormons. It’s a daily thing. It’s part of your life and so for me, though I might not always have the same outlook on doctrinal issues, as other people and even though there may be some days that I have a hard time even believing in a God, that doesn’t mean that I can’t still identify as Mormon as far as I’ve been taught.
And so because I am a person who reaches a broad audience, there may be a time that I say something and there are going to be more people that are going to hear it than if someone just said it in sacrament meeting or to their priest quorum class or something. So I understand that but I’m also a person like everyone else and need to express myself in order to feel like I’m living my best life and doing the things that I need to do in my lifetime so I don’t regret my affiliation with the Mormon faith, of course not.
But with that being said, I do have my own specific thoughts and values and I respect other people to have their own specific thoughts and values.
DN: What has your faith meant to you? What has it done for you in your life?
DR: You know, I have struggled with faith since I was young, just the principle of it. It never was an easy thing for me. I know that some people come into faith easy and they just know things and for me, that was never the case.
You can ask my mom, since I was a young kid I struggled with really a belief in anything, to believe in anything. Anything that I couldn’t see was a hard concept for me, you know, but with that being said, I also found a lot of comfort and joy and peace in thinking that there was something greater than me, that there was a God that loved me and cared about me, that I could be with my family forever, I loved that principle. I thought it sounded beautiful and so I have a lot of hope is the way that I would explain myself to people.
I hope for things. Do I know? I’m not the Mormon who can get up and say I know specific things and there are some people who can and I respect them but for me, it’s every day is a different day and I hope for something greater than this and I hope that me and my four girls will be together forever and I hope I’ll be with my family forever, of course I hope those things. …
To even put this event on in Utah, I have to tell you it’s been very difficult. There have been a lot of people who have not wanted it to happen and a lot of companies that we looked to for sponsorships and people didn’t want to sponsor it because, even if they agreed with the main terms of it, they felt like maybe they’d lose clients and for me, it was upsetting to me and it made me maybe overly passionate and overly zealous in moments.
DN: I know one thing you mentioned, I watched a speech that you gave at the Trevor Project and you said that you wished you could unknock the doors you knocked on your mission. Obviously this is an event that is trying to open a door, what is the door that you’re trying to open?
DR: I think the door that I’m trying to open is one that anybody should feel comfortable entering, regardless of their views. I think the door is open to anybody who is not looking to hurt other people. That’s where I draw the line. I think that’s where probably most people draw the line.
Everybody is entitled to their own views and their own thoughts. And they should be heard and that’s what our nation is based on is the freedom of speech. But, with that being said, obviously the door is not open for somebody who is just looking to come in and hurt people because we’re looking to create a safe environment for everybody to come and to express themselves.
But most of all, I think what we’re looking for in opening this door is to educate all of us, not to change people’s religious values, like I said, not to point at a church and say “You’re wrong and you should change” but rather, just to say let’s meet our LGBTQ youths and sit down with them and hear how they feel and hear from their mouths what they need to feel loved and accepted because they can speak to that better than I can and better than any of us can.
They’re the ones who know what they need. And I think that to be honest, I think there’s a lot of Mormons and people of orthodox faith that don’t have somebody in their life who is very close that is LGBTQ. … And so this is an opportunity for them to come, to hear music but also listen to some of our LGBTQ youths about what it’s been like for them and that’s the only way we can become educated, to listen. And like I said, no one is going to be getting up there to attack a church or a religion, I think that’s meaningless. That’s not going to do good for anybody but rather, it’s to say as a culture, how can we improve? As a people, how can we improve? I don’t believe that people should ever infringe on the personal agency of another individual.
DN: Let me ask you this Dan, and I don’t say this to create contention but simply to get your take and maybe to clear this statement up. In one of the articles that I read you said, “One of those ways is that Mormons believe the doctrine is that if you are gay and acting upon it, that is sinful. That is a very dangerous and hurtful and hateful thing to preach and teach to our children. To be gay is beautiful and right and perfect and to tell someone they need to change their innermost being is setting up someone for an unhealthy life and an unhealthy foundation.” So the question is, that seems to go against what you were just saying about not targeting any one group of people. Can that kind of verbiage be expected at this event or is that just you speaking from your own personal opinion.
DR: That’s a great question and honestly, I’m glad you’re asking these questions so I hope you don’t feel uncomfortable with it because I think we need to discuss exactly that.
The only way we can become educated is to listen and like I said, no one is going to be getting up and attacking a church or a religion. I think that’s meaningless. That’s not going to do anything good for anybody but rather, it’s to say as a culture how can we improve? As a people, how can we improve?
My own personal belief is that to tell a child that their innate sense of being or sexual being which is the most innate part of us is incorrect and needs to be changed, I think is setting a child up for a life that is very difficult and the time that I’ve spent with these LGBTQ youths, the one thing that they’ve expressed to me is that to tell them that they are loved is not enough. It’s not enough and that’s evidenced in the suicide rate. There needs to be more, there needs to be action behind that and so, if you truly love someone, I believe that you also accept their life and you accept the way that they need to live to be healthy. If it’s not hurting other people then I believe that someone should be allowed to live the way that they need to live to be healthy.
If I knew that my child had an eight times larger chance at committing suicide if I told them I didn’t accept their lifestyle, well I can tell you I would never tell my little girl that it was wrong, of course I wouldn’t, even if I believed that I wouldn’t because who wants to set their child up for a life of being eight times more likely to commit suicide? I don’t believe that most loving parents would if they were put in that position but the thing is most of us are not put in that position so we can stand from the sidelines and kind of watch and say “Well this is what I would do,” but until we’re in that position we don’t know.
So my own personal view is that our youth need to know that they’re perfect the way they are and that they are loved and accepted and that the families of these children need to love and respect them with that being said, I can’t speak for LoveLoud because that’s my own personal opinion. I know what Steve and Barb have been doing is just talking about how within the family we can create a healthy environment for these children and to talk with the parents about how we can go about doing that. And they’re very educated on that because they’ve been doing it for years.
DN: So let’s say you have an active Latter-day Saint who believes in loving and treating others with respect and extending friendship to these LGBTQ youths and wants to support that idea but still believes, like the Family Proclamation says, that marriage is between a man and a woman, will those people feel comfortable or challenged in this environment?
DR: That’s a great question. I would say our goal from the get-go is for those people to absolutely feel comfortable, to feel like they can come out and feel safe and feel respected. That has been of the utmost importance to us from the very beginning because otherwise we’re just throwing a festival for the people who are LGBTQ or families who have a child who is LGBTQ and maybe we’re doing some good but we’re not really reaching everybody and everybody needs to hear this message. So when you say the word “challenged,” I think that is not the correct term to say how they will feel. I think that hopefully they’ll feel just like I would, which is I have an open heart and an open mind and I’m willing to listen to our LGBTQ youth. I’m willing to listen to the people here and to feel the vibes of this festival and hopefully go home with more assets and knowledge as to how to be a better, more loving and accepting member of our community.
I think putting religion into this, it has to be said to some degree because Utah is a very heavily populated Mormon area but this goes beyond religion, this needs to be about people and it needs to be way beyond Mormons because Mormons make not even one percent of the population so the goal of LoveLoud is to reach the world. And this is where you start, you start in your community.
DN: The recent song that your band released, “Believer,” the lyrics seem to suggest that there is a pain that has come or is associated with being a believer. Did that have anything to do with your experience with your faith?
DR: No. I wouldn’t say directly that it’s a song about my faith. It’s a song about my life. With saying that it’s about my life though, of course part of my life is my faith but also, I’ve been diagnosed with two diseases in the last five years. I’ve dealt with depression since I was in high school so I have a lot of things that are a source of pain at times for me, just like anybody else. Everybody has their own different personal things that are at times difficult and at times wonderful. So is it directly related to my faith? No. But is it indirectly? Sure, I’m sure to some degree because it’s in reference to my life and to other personal things like that.
DN: So what would you say is the message of that song and why is the word “believer” used?
DR: Sure, in saying “believer,” what I was actually speaking of was being a believer in myself and pain is really what has given me confidence and what has ended up giving me the tools that I needed to achieve my goals. If it wasn’t for depression, I would’ve never turned to art. I would’ve never written a song. I turned to music because I was in such a dark place and I didn’t know how to express myself and I found that music was an outlet for me and it gave me a lot of peace, turning to music and expressing myself through it. And also, criticism. Criticism throughout the years, especially when you’re in the spotlight, the voices of people who love you are going to be loud and the voices of people who hate you are going to be just as loud if not louder so you can either shrivel up in a ball on the ground, curl up and be afraid or you can stand up even a little taller and be a little more impassioned. So the basis of that song is that whether it’s disease, whether it’s spiritual confusion, whether it’s depression, whatever it is, it’s always led me to higher ground because I choose to not to let it push me down. I choose to just, hopefully, be stronger through trials.