Imagine Dragons' Mormon Lead Singer Made A Documentary About LGBTQ Believers

Dan Reynolds
Dan Reynolds greets Savannah and her mother, Heather Kester, after Savannah's speech at the 2017 LoveLoud Festival in Orem, Utah. (Courtesy HBO)

Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds isn't shy about discussing his Mormon faith in the new HBO documentary Believer. The title is the name of one of the band's hit songs:

But Reynolds is having some doubts. He's become increasingly concerned about the rising suicide rate among LGBTQ Mormon teenagers.

The church has condemned homosexuality as a sin and fought against marriage equality. The church got headlines in 2008 over their major support of Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state, before ultimately being overturned. Mormons who advocate for tolerance — or who have same-sex relationships — have been exiled from the church, their communities, and their immediate families.

"The problem is, these leaders are saying, 'We love our LGBTQ youth! There is a place for you. However, you can't be gay because — well, then you're sinning,'" Reynolds told KPCC's The Frame.

To Reynolds, that's even worse than flat out not accepting homosexuality.

"I would rather they shut the door and say, 'There's no place for you,' because then we're leading all these youths to believe that there's going to be a healthy life for them," Reynolds said. (Listen to the full interview here or subscribe to the Frame's podcast on Apple Podcasts.)

The options for LGBTQ members of the church are to be celibate, marry outside your sexual preference, or lie about one's intimate life, Reynolds said. All three of which can lead to depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Although he's straight, Reynolds saw the devastating effects of the Church's intolerance on close LGBTQ friends — notably fellow musician Tyler Glenn of the band Neon Trees, who feels the church persecuted him for his sexual orientation.

"Tyler wanted to be more of a Mormon than me," Reynolds said. "Tyler fought for 30 years to conform in the way that the church asked him to until he finally said, 'You know what, this is really ruining my life.'"

Believer follows Reynolds as he advocates the Latter Day Saints renounce their homophobia. In the film, he goes on a listening tour to hear the perspectives of queer Mormon youths.

One of the film's subjects is teenage girl Savannah, who was silenced at a Mormon ceremony for speaking out about being gay.

Reynolds' awareness of what LGBTQ Mormons endure began when the Imagine Dragons song "It's Time" was used in an episode of Glee. It figured in a scene where a male character sings it to his boyfriend.

"I think that is what gave us a launching board of a large LGBTQ following," Reynolds said. "It's really about embracing yourself and loving yourself. I started to get tons of emails from fans who said, 'Hey, I know you're Mormon — I'm gay and feel conflicted about my sexuality and I'm also from a religious household.'"

Reynolds doesn't think being a straight white rock star invalidates his role in this story.

"It's important for straight allies to turn to their other straight friends who are all Mormon and say, 'Hey guys, this is a change that has come about me, and this is the way that I got there, and let's talk about it,'" Reynolds said. "I know Mormons, I know our culture, and when people yell at us, we close our door and don't listen. But if someone is yelling on the inside of the house — that's a different story."

At times, the Mormon Church has been known to alter its doctrine. In 1890, it banned polygamy, and in 1978, itreversed years of institutional racism to allow African Americans to become priests. Could it do that again when it comes to LGBTQ rights?

"If there's any church that is primed and ready to do something like this, it is the Mormon church," Reynolds said. "They believe in modern day revelations. So they believe there's a prophet today that speaks to God who's alive, and that God speaks to the times. So now here we are where the nation is saying, 'Hey, to be LGBTQ should be celebrated. In face, it shouldn't even be a thing.'"

Reynolds says that change of attitude is starting to happen on the ground level, with members of the Mormon church.

"My goal is to stoke that fire so that enough of the members are saying, 'you know what, we're not cool with this.' So that it gets to the point where the prophet goes and he prays about it."