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When I was in high school, my best friend was gay, and I never knew. When he came out to me years later, I asked him why hadn’t he told me back then, and he answered, “You remember what it was like, right?” Yeah, I remembered. It was the 90’s and it was Utah County. Fear and misunderstanding were the norm, and for many LGBTQ+ youth, day-to-day life could be a terrifying experience. I’d like to think that there have been positive changes since then, but sadly, Utah’s youth suicide rate isn’t one of them.
Instead of falling, it is climbing steadily, and has been each year, nearly four times faster than the national average. LGBTQ+ youth in unaccepting homes and communities are 8 times more likely to commit suicide and 3 times more likely to engage in risky drug use.
But Dan Reynolds, the lead singer of Imagine Dragons, and the LoveLoud Foundation are trying to change that. Last year, Dan started the LoveLoud festival to increase suicide awareness for Utah’s LGBTQ+ youth. We recently sat down to talk with Dan and Tegan Quin from the band Tegan and Sara—artists who are trying to make a meaningful impact in the lives of our youth here in Utah.
UVHW: What inspired you to start this journey, and LoveLoud, on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community?
Dan Reynolds: I watched how difficult it was for friends of mine to feel safe in that space. And then I went on (an LDS) mission, and became good friends with Tyler Glenn of Neon Trees. I watched him go through his process of being Mormon and gay and coming out and how difficult that was for him to feel at odds with God. Then I married a woman who is a badass activist who helped me to find my own inner truth and speak it. It’s been a lot of different things and a lot of different people who have inspired me throughout the years as well as people like Tegan who have been doing things in this realm for a long time. I’m just trying to do my little part with the platform that I’ve been given.
UVHW: Your film Believer aired on HBO in June. What would you want the Utah Valley audience to know about your film and how to embrace the message that you’re sharing?
Dan Reynolds: That it’s a safe film to watch with their children. It’s motivating, it’s emotional, it’s powerful and I truly believe it will create real change in the communities that need it most. We tried really hard to create a documentary that was honest and to convey what’s happening on ground zero with our LGBTQ+ youth within homes of faith. The question is, what can we do to change the statistics, the environment and to create a safe one for LGBTQ+ youth, and that’s what this documentary is looking to do. I hope that everyone would give it a chance to sit down and watch it and see how their heart and mind feels.
UVHW: How can we create greater safety for our LGBTQ+ youth and as well as adults; what can we do as a community? Tegan, do you want to answer that?
Tegan Quin: It’s so profoundly moving to watch the documentary and that’s why Sara and I and our foundation got involved with it. We want to bring the community together, not to talk about how we don’t agree, but instead to create an amazing space to come together—to have the LGBTQ+ community speaking their truth, but also have Mormons in the community who want to learn and want to be better allies or want to understand what’s going on. The community is the space to do that, and to use music to bring people together. That’s a really wonderful way to start the conversation. As queer artists, our number one job is to bring people together to a space that feels inclusive and feels warm, and I think that music is really wonderful—a great equalizer. It transcends all of our differences and brings us all together. Encouraging people to watch the documentary or come to LoveLoud is a great way to start that conversation.
UVHW: I brought my kids to LoveLoud last year, and that really opened up the door to talk about what they heard, and what they saw, and how they felt about it. It was such a cool experience, and was such a great success. What are your hopes for year two of LoveLoud?
Dan Reynolds: For me, it’s that dialogue that takes place beforehand and after the concert at home, at the dinner table, at school or at church. I think that change really comes about on people’s own timelines and nobody ever changes in a deep way on matters that are this ingrained in some people’s hearts, by just having someone talk at them. I think the change comes about with time, with patience and with open dialogue and thoughtfulness. What’s the most important thing is the child sitting down with mom and dad and saying, “Hey, this is what I felt at LoveLoud. What’d you guys think?” And then the parents expressing their thoughts and then the child their thoughts and then going to school and talking to their friends about it. And that to me is how you de-stigmatize an issue and that’s how you create a safe place for LGBTQ+ youth where this isn’t even a conversation that needs to be had anymore. But hopefully there’ll be a day where LoveLoud isn’t necessary any longer. Maybe it will just take on a different life of just being a celebration of love.
Tegan Quin: I think there’s so much negativity in the media and there’s just a lot going on in the world. It can be extremely overwhelming, and maybe a young person is experiencing anxiety or depression. Another wonderful positive about LoveLoud and the documentary is that it’s celebration, it’s positivity–it’s starting the conversation and it’s exploring a different side of the conversation. Just this morning, I was speaking to a grade four teacher who told me that they had taken their students to an event where there had been positive LGBTQ+ representation there and they had been talking about pronouns and a kid who had been really depressed and who had expressed thoughts of suicide at 10 years old, which is just devastating to hear, had come back after the field trip and said, “I now know more about myself.” This kid had been feeling like maybe he was LGBTQ+. And sometimes it’s just giving LGBTQ+ kids something to look forward to, something positive to get them through these things. You know, that’s why I think LoveLoud is important. It’s positive and we need that right now in the community.
UVHW: Yes, we do. What are your plans or thoughts about doing LoveLoud on a national level?
Dan Reynolds: My focus is really on Utah, because that’s got one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. When someone has a LoveLoud necklace on or a t-shirt, then our LGBTQ+ youth can go up to that person, and find a safe zone there. But I would like it to be an organization that represents safety to all LGBTQ+ youth, not just in the nation, but around the world, and I think it starts here. We hope to continue to do as much as we possibly can to create a real impact.