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Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds on becoming an unlikely ally for LGBTQ people

Reynolds sat down with TODAY to discuss LoveLoud, his popular music festival, which returns to Salt Lake City after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.
/ Source: TODAY

The straight, cisgender frontman of a rock band may be the last person you'd expect to be such an 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 musical group acts, boasting almost 57 million monthly listeners on Spotify. In 2018, they were the most streamed group on the platform, and three of their songs —“Believer,” “Thunder” and “Demons” — have received more than one billion streams. But talking to Reynolds — who sat down with TODAY in Seattle while on tour — you don’t experience any of the cockiness or ego that may come through when talking to a rock superstar.

Instead, he centers himself on his mission as an ally.

Imagine Dragons In Concert - Clarkston, Michigan
Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons holds a gay pride flag during their Evolve world tour in 2018.Scott Legato / Getty Images

Reynolds has easily taken the place as one of the loudest advocates for a community he doesn't actually belong to. This stems from his growing up fourth-generation Las Vegan raised in a very conservative Mormon family where he experienced firsthand 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 told TODAY via Zoom on what goes into selecting the 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."

Loveloud Music Festival
LoveLoud Fest in 2017.Chad Hurst / Getty Images

The 34-year-old musician is creating a space where the intersectionality of religion with sexual and gender expression can coalesce into a family-friendly environment. In addition to the musical lineup slated for May 14, 2022, a roster of speakers are scheduled to present on a litany of topics that impact LGBTQ youth, from suicide prevention to mental health to 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," he added. "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 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, among others.

LOVELOUD Festival 2019 Powered By AT&T
Reynolds with Emma Gonzalez, Kesha and Tegan Quin at LoveLoud in 2019.Jerod Harris / Getty Images

"I'm just a big believer that change doesn't happen by two sides standing on other sides of the fence throwing stones," he 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 that he's flawed, "gonna mess things up," and life is not pretty, 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 shares four kids with his wife since 2011, Aja Volkman — urges members of the straight community to opt out of inaction in 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."