“To be gay is beautiful and right and perfect; to tell someone they need to change their innermost being is setting up someone for an unhealthy life and unhealthy foundation.”
Raised in a Mormon family, the Imagine Dragons frontman, Dan Reynolds was taught to believe that being gay was a sin. Standing on the stage to receive The Trevor Project’s annual Hero Award, meant to celebrate individuals who have helped in uplifting LGBTQ people everywhere back in 2017, Reynolds reveals how he went on a Mormon mission trip, where he went around teaching people that being gay was a “sin” for two years.
The words he spoke next, almost tearing up, were an apology to the community at large: “I wish I could re-knock all of those doors and tell them that I was wrong.” He’s been an ally to the LGBTQ community throughout his career. Reynolds partnered with progressive Mormons Steve and Barb Young to conduct an event in 2016 called LOVELOUD designed to bring together the LGBTQ community, providing them a safe space to come together and listen to music and to the speakers who talk about how important it is for families to accept their children the way they are.
The money raised went to LGBTQ organizations like The Trevor Project (founded in 1998 focused on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and youth who are still questioning and coming to terms with their gender identity), and Encircle (an organization that helps cultivate an environment where LGBTQ individuals can thrive teaching them to love themselves and empowering families).
He said, “And if there is a God, then God is all for it.” Reynolds has become one of the most outspoken and recognizable straight allies in the recent years. Not only has he hosted benefit concerts for the LGBTQ youth, which raised over a million dollars, he has also worked with queer artists like Justin Tranter. Tranter co-wrote the chart topping track “Believer”, which talks about the struggles of anxiety and depression.
Reynolds decided to let the world in on what made him so outspoken about his acceptance and support for the community in the HBO documentary “Believer” named after the lead single from the band’s third studio album, Evolve. In the documentary, he’s seen talking to the young queer people, who have in their lives at some point identified as Mormons. The film discusses the internal struggle for balance between religion and queerness and Utah’s high LGBTQ youth suicide rates.
In 2017, while speaking to Billboard, Reynolds said: “One of the reasons I’ve felt such a need to speak out on this is I’ve gotten countless emails and letters from fans around the world who said, “I’m gay, but I know you’re Mormon so that probably means you don’t accept my lifestyle, but I love your music.” That was devastating and it broke my heart to get letters like that. I’ve written back to these people to tell them, “No, I do support you.” It’s been a driving force for me to raise awareness and make a difference and not just sit back to let people hurt. “It’s Time” reached a lot in a lot of different ways.”
Reynolds has reached out to his LGBTQ fans constantly throughout his career. He wrote a love letter in June (2018) to his fans in which he spoke about his Mormon upbringing and how he realized that he needed to voice his beliefs as an advocate for the community. He made certain that the fans reading could feel his endless love and support for them. He wrote: “To our LGBTQ youth. I LOVE YOU. Fully. Completely. I celebrate you. You are beautiful and worthy of love. I hope you let yourself find it and find peace and security in that place.”
It’s not just in his spoken words or written letters, it’s evident in his lyrics too. The closing track on Imagine Dragon’s album Origins, released in November (2018), called “Love” fits hand in hand with his constant advocacy for LGBTQ issues. The song talks about finding a common ground of acceptance in love with lyrics like: “We got the same heartbeat / We’re living for the same dreams/ We got the same bloodstream.” The lyrics are again a reminder for his fans that no matter who you choose to love, and no matter where you come from, we’re all human and we all deserve to live a life of dignity and equality.
Even when the band won the award for Top Rock Artist at the Billboard Music Awards this year, Reynolds, instead of going about the acceptance speech like every other artist, took the opportunity to talk about conversion therapy in the United States. He denounced the practice and belief that being gay or being attracted to the same-sex is some kind of illness that could be curbed or fixed through therapy.
His acceptance speech went like: “I just want to take this moment to say that there are still 34 states that don’t have laws banning conversion therapy. On top of that, 58 percent of our LGBTQ population live in those states. This can change, but it’s going to take all of us talking to our state (legislatures), pushing forward laws to protect our LGBTQ youth. And lastly, we have seen with conversion therapy that our LGBTQ youth have double the rate of depression and triple the rate of suicide after the therapy”, he added, “It’s not working and needs to change.”
Conversion therapy includes methods like talk therapy and also other aversive treatments like the application of electric shocks to the hands and/or genitals to “cure” homosexuality. It also involves nausea-inducing drugs while presentation of same-sex erotic imagery. The fact that Reynolds didn’t thank anyone in his acceptance speech for the award and just stood on the stage to talk about how tormenting it might be for people to go through such experiences, shows that he genuinely cares about the cause and the community.
He has been making constant efforts to raise awareness about issues related to homophobia in a religion that he was taught to believe in. He’s kept the community in his words and in his mind wherever he went. From going around as a Mormon missionary in Nebraska preaching that homosexuality is a sin to talking about conversion therapy on the Billboard stage, Reynolds’ journey of becoming an ally and unlearning the orthodox religious beliefs has given hope and a voice to everyone who follows him and faces judgement from the society on a daily basis for being themselves.