The straight, cisgender frontman of a rock band may not be the first person you’d expect to be an outspoken advocate and ally for the LGBTQ community.
But then there’s Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds.
Imagine Dragons has become one of this generation’s most popular music groups, boasting nearly 57 million monthly listeners on Spotify. In 2018, it was the most streamed group on the platform, and three of its songs —“Believer,” “Thunder” and “Demons” — have received more than a billion streams. But talking to Reynolds, one doesn't experience any of the cockiness or ego that may come through when talking to other rock superstars.
Instead, he centers himself on his mission as an ally.
Reynolds, who is not part of the LGBTQ community, said his advocacy stems from growing up in a very conservative Mormon family where he witnessed some of his family members struggling to reconcile their sexuality with their religious teachings.
In 2018, Reynolds produced "Believer," a documentary that examined the “intersection between LGBT people and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” In 2019, he used his band’s acceptance speech for the top rock artist award at the Billboard Music Awards to speak out against conversion therapy. Last year, he donated his childhood home to be converted into a youth center for vulnerable LGBTQ youth. And this year, his LoveLoud Fest returns after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic
“For me, I’m just thinking of selfishly creating a festival that I would want to go to,” Reynolds said of what goes into selecting the concert lineup, which this year includes Willow, The Aces, Neon Trees and Brazilian pop superstar Anitta.
“I would love to see Anitta live. So it’s a hodgepodge of a lot of different things, but the main thing we’re trying to do with LoveLoud is also bring out families. It’s supposed to be this queer festival that you want to go to while also being family-friendly. What we’re trying to do is get conservative, religious families to [attend], because these are the families that need it the most.”
The 34-year-old musician is creating a space where the intersectionality of religion and LGBTQ identities can coalesce into a family-friendly environment. In addition to the musical lineup slated for May 14, a roster of speakers are scheduled to present on a variety of topics that impact LGBTQ youth, from suicide prevention to mental health and homelessness.
“These are the families that their kids are coming out and not being accepted, and they’re being told all kinds of these dangerous things,” Reynolds said. “Frankly, these parents, they think they’re giving their kids the right things, but they don’t have the tools and the education to know how much it harms your child when you’re indoctrinating them with these false principles. So that’s what we’re trying to do. There’s a lot that goes into it and it’s pretty nuanced, but hopefully we’re getting better at it every year.”
Founded in 2017, the annual LoveLoud festival takes place in Salt Lake City, a Mormon stronghold, and raises money for Reynolds’ foundation of the same name. From there, funds are dispersed to various organizations including Encircle, the Tegan and Sara Foundation, The Trevor Project and Equality Utah.
“I’m just a big believer that change doesn’t happen by two sides standing on other sides of the fence throwing stones,” Reynolds said. “Change happens when people come in, they sit down, and there has to be some sort of mutual respect to begin with.”
On what he has learned most about himself through his allyship and producing LoveLoud, he said it's that he's flawed and is inevitably going to "mess things up," but that's OK.
“You’re gonna make mistakes along the way,” he said. “I think that’s a big part of the problem. Heterosexual men are afraid of pronouns because they’re afraid of messing up. Just try. Life is so nuanced. You’ve learned all the other nuances. Why can’t you try this? It’s really not hard. I’m not saying just pronouns. I’m using that as an example, but it’s like all these people who are heterosexual are afraid of messing up or saying the wrong thing.”
Reynolds, who is married and has four children, urges members of the straight community to opt out of inaction due to fear of making a mistake, and instead take a step into active participation and above all else, education.
"The greatest offense is standing by and being like, 'It doesn’t affect me. It doesn’t matter,'" he said. "It does make a difference. I’m a firm believer that all puzzle pieces need to be put into the puzzle, and one of those pieces is the heterosexual, white man who is an enemy to all and has been for a long time. The only way that’s gonna change is accepting and understanding that we need to learn.”
“I just believe we got to sit down at the table together," he added.