The Mormon frontman of the Imagine Dragons rock band hopes the Sundance Film Festival documentary that follows his journey to becoming an advocate for LGBT Mormon youth triggers real change by his religion’s leaders and puts an end to what he calls “shaming” of gay and lesbian kids in the religion.
Singer Dan Reynolds said he and director Don Argott made the film Believer to put “a face to the faceless and a voice to the voiceless.” His goal is to show leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that opposition to same-sex relationships is damaging the self-worth of gay, lesbian and transgender kids.
“These kids are being told their most innate sense of being is sinful,” said Reynolds, a Mormon from Las Vegas. “Shaming is so destructive.”
The film received a standing ovation at its premiere Sunday in Park City and is showing a fourth and final time Saturday night. It’s set to air on HBO in the summer.
The Utah-based Mormon religion of 16 million members worldwide is holding firm to doctrinal opposition of gay marriage and homosexual activity while trying to foster an empathetic stance toward LGBT people and end bullying.
Last year, church leaders updated a website created in 2012 to let members know that that attraction to people of the same sex is not a sin or a measure of their faithfulness and may never go away. But the church reminded members that being in an intimate same-sex relationship is a sin because it violates fundamental doctrinal beliefs that will not change.
In the film, Argott follows Reynolds and former Mormon Tyler Glenn, a gay lead singer of Neon Trees, as they plan the LoveLoud Festival, a concert last summer in Utah headlined by Imagine Dragons that raised funds for organizations supporting at-risk LGBT youth.
The Mormon church supported the festival, praising organizers for bringing “people together to address teen safety and to express respect and love for all of God’s children.”
Church spokesperson Eric Hawkins said in a statement Tuesday that the religion’s support of that festival was part of a message that’s not new for the religion.
“We have repeatedly denounced cruelty, rejection, bullying and the mistreatment of others,” Hawkins said. “We lobbied in support of Utah’s strong antidiscrimination laws. The church’s message is one of hope, compassion and understanding. We want our LGBT brothers and sisters to know that there is a place for them and their contributions in the church. There is more to do and we remain fully committed to these efforts moving forward.”
Reynolds, 30, said in an interview this week that “platitudes” from church officials about love for LGBT Mormons and telling them “there’s a place for them” isn’t enough.
He has talked with church leaders about the issue and hopes to continue doing so but said the church’s “platitudes are empty words” until and unless it changes its doctrine to accommodate gay marriage and homosexual sex.
The Mormon church has shown no indication it will consider changing the belief. Members believe church doctrine can only be altered through revelations from God.
Asked by reporters last week about how church will deal with LGBT issues going forward, new church president Russell M. Nelson and one of his top counsellors said they are trying to balance the “love of the Lord and the law of the Lord.”
Nelson previously defended the church’s 2015 decision to adopt new rules banning children living with gay parents from being baptized until age 18 and clarifying that people in same-sex relationships are considered apostates, meaning they can be kicked out of the religion.
Reynolds said rising suicide rates in Utah were a big reason behind his decision to make the film, which follows his life for a year as he and Tyler decide to create the LoveLoud Festival.
The number of yearly suicides for youth ages 10-17 in Utah has spiked to alarming levels in the last five years — more than double the average from the previous decade.
LGBT advocacy groups theorize that it could be linked to the struggle by gay and lesbian Mormon teens to feel accepted. As many of two-thirds of Utah’s 3 million residents are members of the Mormon church.
State and federal health investigators who have closely examined the increase in teen suicide rates say more needs to be done to assess the role sexual orientation plays in the rise, but that the information available shows that only a fraction of the cases were definitely linked to the youth’s sexual orientation.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, has created a new task force that includes a high-ranking Mormon leader, the Utah Jazz owner and the leader of an LGBT rights group to search for ways to stop the state’s rise in teen suicides.
Reynolds, who is married to a woman and has three daughters, said he’s been aware of the issue since he grew up with LGBT Mormon friends who hid who they were for fear of reprisal from parents and communities.
Reynolds said the documentary was a way for him to end his silence on an important topic and break free of his fear of offending family, friends or fans by speaking out.
“This isn’t just pointing a finger at Mormonism, it’s pointing a finger at all of us,” Reynolds said. “It’s pointing a finger at myself, who has been a silent nobody for years.”