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In 'Believer,' Dan Reynolds exemplifies allyship among people of faith

March 25, 2019

Imagine Dragons' front man, Dan Reynolds, explores how the Mormon Church’s policies effect the LGBTQ community in his 2018 HBO documentary, Believer. Nominated for Outstanding Documentary at the 30th Annual GLAAD Media Awards, Reynolds displays a more vulnerable side of himself, as he attempts to make change in the ever-so-stubborn Mormon Church.

Reynolds openly admits that his identity as both a Mormon and a rockstar appear paradoxical. When you add LGBTQ ally to the ‘identity list’, things can appear further complicated. But his complex identity speaks more to the idiosyncratic nature of identity than to the limits of Christianity.

Between different denominations and congregations, every Christian person experiences Christianity in their own unique way. Some Christians are LGBTQ—and many are, in fact, allies. According to a recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute, support for marriage equality is steadily on the rise  across all Christian denominations.

But even with increased acceptance, queer people of (Christian) faith are often asked to compromise certain aspects of their identity; in both their religious and LGBTQ communities. Many queer spaces are wary and distrust religious institutions—often for well-deserved reasons. Although the majority of LGBTQ people have a religious affiliation, the majority of lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults still feel unwelcome in their community.

Religious spaces—even  knowing that the majority of a congregation is accepting of LGBTQ people—are often silent on LGBTQ issues, failing to address how the church historically has treated and continues to treat queer and transgender people. Some people in the congregation still preach homophobic and transphobic values.

For a while, Reynolds was a part of the silent majority that supported the LGBTQ community but did not feel the could speak out.

“When Prop 8 was going down, in my heart, I was, like, I don’t feel good about this,’” he admits, “’But whatever—it doesn’t affect me.’ Which I think is a mentality about of probably a lot of Christians and people.”

It was not until his friends, a lesbian couple, refused to attend his wedding because of the Mormon Church’s anti-LGBTQ policies, that he understood the effect that his silence had for  marginalized communities.

“I felt guilty for being a silent person” Reynolds confesses.

These honest and touching moments when Reynolds accepts he should have been more of an active ally, speaking out against injustices in the Church, are the backbone of this genial film. Without disregarding the voices of people most affected by these policies, he listens to and affirms the concerns that his queer friends have.  He then uses his voice to help alleviate the marginalization in his community by advocating for his queer friends and - by extension - for the queer community.

And if there’s one lesson to take from this documentary, it is how honest conversations can positively affect religious LGBTQ people.

Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of this comes from Tyler Glenn, lead vocalist and keyboardist of Neon Trees and Reynold’s LoveLoud Festival collaborator, who opened up about coming out as a gay Mormon.

Despite living his dream as a musician, as long as he did not disclose his sexuality, he could not find  happiness.

“I can’t keep thinking this is a cool secret and I have to come out,” he says. “I came out to my producer… [and he told me] ‘I’m so happy for you,’ and that was the first time I ever attributed being positivity to being gay.”

Unfortunately, Glenn is not the only Mormon to feel the effects of anti-LGBTQ Church policy. A recent study at the University of George reveals that 70 percent of the LGBT Mormons surveyed met criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as a result of the teachings and sermons they heard at church.

In the documentary’s most harrowing and gloomy moments, Reynolds speaks to Mormon families of children who are victims of suicide. They all wished for the same things: For more understanding, empathy, and conversations surrounding what LGBTQ Mormon youth go through.

One mother consults in Reynolds and says: “We need more voices.”

With Utah being the state with the fifth-highest suicide rate,  as youth suicide rates steadily increase over the past decade, she is not wrong.

When Ellen DeGeneres invited Reynolds to her talk show in June 2018 to discuss his Mormon faith and promote his documentary, she brought up statistics and how suicide impacts LGBTQ youth:

"The leading cause of death for Utah kids, ages 11-17, is suicide," she says. "Suicide in Utah has increased 141 percent because of the shame they feel from the Mormon Church."

And Reynolds agreed:.

“Far too many Mormons in Utah are taking their lives,” he says in the opening scene of the documentary on LGBTQ suicide in the Mormon church. “I don’t feel the need to denounce Mormonism. I do feel the need, as a Mormon, to speak out on things that I think are hurting people.”

To make a difference, you have to start within your own community. By listening to the marginalized members of the Mormon Church and creating conversations around the effects of anti-LGBTQ Church policy, Believer is a testament to the power of breaking the silence.

Nick Fiorellini is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and junior at Bard College studying literature. He is member of the school’s QSA, Christian Fellowship, and is currently in the process of reviving the Hudson Sexuality and Gender Discussion Group.

the voice and vision of a new generation