How do you stop rising suicide rates among Latter-day Saint lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth? For Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds, the answers are love and listening.
Reynolds’ crusade is the focus of “Believer,” a Live Nation Productions documentary released at Sundance Film Festival this week. “Believer” follows Reynolds as he wrestles to reconcile his belief in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with the church’s stance that homosexuality is a sin—a stance Reynolds calls poisonous.
“The statistics are showing that it’s devastating our LGBT youth,” Reynolds said. “My only mission as a Mormon is to fight for LGBT youth and to stop the shaming that has occurred. That’s the goal.”
Taking action in true rock star fashion, Reynolds created the LoveLoud Festival, a Utah music festival aimed to bring together the LDS and LGBTQ communities. The concert at Orem’s Brent Brown Ballpark last August drew 17,000 people, with ticket sales spiking after the LDS Church publicly endorsed the festival.
“Believer” shows the story of LoveLoud from its inception to its after-effects, which included Reynolds meeting with two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a top Latter-day Saint leadership group.
Reynolds said he sees the LoveLoud Festival as a starting point for change to church policy and culture by opening conversations and building understanding between the two groups.
“I think Mormons follow their hearts and their minds, and they have sensitive hearts,” Reynolds said. “They’re thoughtful and intelligent people. So I think it’s just a matter of us all taking the time to actually see what’s going on.”
According to statistics showcased in the documentary, LGBTQ youth in unaccepting homes and communities are eight times more likely to commit suicide than their peers. Suicide rates among Utah youth have tripled in the past three or four years, Reynolds said—a rate that is an anomaly from the rest of the United States.
“It’s a real problem, and we can’t turn a blind eye to it,” Reynolds said. “I believe in the goodness of Mormons, and so I think it’s all going to come down to us rallying together. That’s what LoveLoud is all about.”
Reynolds said he believes one immediate solution is for Latter-day Saints to listen to their gay youth. LoveLoud creates a platform that promotes such listening, with LGBTQ youth and their families sharing their personal experiences amid performances by local artists as well as big names like Neon Trees and Imagine Dragons.
“Believer” ends with Reynolds vowing to not stop his quest until the LDS Church stops teaching homosexuality is a sin.
“I know that a lot of Mormons think that you can’t speak on God’s behalf and that will never change, but until that does change, there’s not a place for our gay youth,” he said.
“Believer” was acquired by HBO and is slated for distribution through the network this summer. Despite the documentary’s critical look at LDS Church policies and leadership, Reynolds said he refuses to denounce his Mormon faith. He said the teachings of his Latter-day Saint youth and the lessons he learned as a missionary serving for the church in Nebraska taught him that if you want to change the world, you begin with your own community.
Whether or not individuals’ views agree with his, Reynolds said he hopes that people will put aside their differences and focus on unconditionally loving, understanding, accepting and supporting LGBTQ youth—including attending LoveLoud this summer.
All proceeds from the festival go to nonprofit organizations that support LGBTQ youth, including GLAAD; The Trevor Project, a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ youth; anti-bullying group Stand4Kind; and Encircle, a resource center in Provo for LGBTQ teens and their families.
“You can come to LoveLoud if you are the most resolute Mormon who thinks that being gay is a sin—because I still think that those Mormons believe in love, right?” Reynolds said. “So there’s a place for them. Come on out. … And then from there, I think we’ll all build together in the way that is right, because I believe in the goodness of people, and I believe in our culture. Let’s start on that path together.”
“Believer” will have its final Sundance screening at 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Temple Theater in Park City. Although the film is sold out, waitlist tickets may be available via ewaitlist.sundance.org.