By Vic Gerami
Dan Reynolds is best known for being the lead singer and frontman of the Grammy award, American Music Awards and Billboard Music Awards-winning band, Imagine Dragons. The list of awards and accolades bestowed on Imagine Dragons and Reynolds is too long to note; he is also the recipient of the Songwriters Hall of Fame Hal David Starlight Award, as well as Trevor Project’s Hero Award.
But Reynolds’s extraordinary success in music and his worldwide popularity are a fraction of what make him a superstar. What he has done with his success by giving back to the world is what makes him stand out. With the risk of pigeonholing him into a category as he and the band’s benevolence are diverse and limitless, Reynolds’s exceptional commitment to the LGBTQ community, especially as a heterosexual Utahan rock star and father of three, elevated him to icon status.
The only superstar that I can think of who risked quite a lot by embracing and championing the queer community is Elizabeth Taylor. In the early 1980s, at the onset of the HIV and AIDS epidemic when most did not even want to discuss the matter much less do anything about it, Elizabeth Taylor defied the establishment and spearheaded the movement to address the epidemic. She went on to create the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and later Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.
I write about Elizabeth Taylor not to take away from Reynolds’s accomplishments, but to firmly state that despite countless stars’ charities, generosity, and philanthropies, Reynolds shares similar iconography due to his phenomenal and remarkable work.
My interview with Reynolds took almost an hour. He was casual, friendly, open, charming, and very modest. His sincerity was unmistakable and he exuded love for his music and band, his family, his fans and his community.
VIC GERAMI: Your fourth album is still doing really great. It’s still on Billboard’s Top 100 and you go on tour, I believe, sometime in May.
DAN REYNOLDS: You know, we’re not really touring this record like we did the others. We are playing shows here and there, like some big festivals. But we’re not touring like an international — you know, day after day.
VG: Do you feel like you’re on top of the world? It seems like it, from my perspective.
DR: I think my head was spinning too much for the first few albums to really appreciate everything, the success with the band and how far we’ve come. But I really do feel like, as of late, I’ve been able to appreciate it more and really sit back and see, kind of, this band that we’ve built (as) a group of people all over the world that believe in it and take part in it. And yeah, I really am proud and feel incredibly lucky and happy and fulfilled to be in this band. But you know, it really did take me a while, to be honest with you, because I think, I don’t know, you can never plan for going from playing tiny little clubs and being broke, not being able to afford health insurance, touring together in a tiny little bands to being this huge international band. So it definitely took a while to understand, but I feel super lucky and grateful.
VG: You have been very generously candid about your mental health challenges. What has made you such a champion for mental health awareness?
DR: I think that we live in a pretty broken culture right now with a lot of stigmas. And one of the root causes of that is that people are presenting only their best moments on social media, presenting a false narrative of life. I think it’s great to celebrate, being on the beach with your friends and feeling your best and looking your best. But I think it’s just as important to talk about the real things, whether it’s health issues, whether it’s mental things you’re going through, or hardships, or political thoughts. I just think it’s so important. You know, one of my favorite people that I follow on Instagram is Jameela Jamil. I think she’s just absolutely incredible. But she talks a lot about how important it is to really talk about the real things.
Anyway, she’s really brilliant. She talks about how important it is to talk about real things. And so for me, a real thing for me, I struggled with depression and anxiety since middle school. That’s been a part of my journey and it doesn’t make me broken. It doesn’t make me “less than.” I have a therapist; I’ve had a therapist for a long time. And I think hiding those things is what causes our youth to feel like they have reservations to go to a therapist. It could be life-saving for them. I think that we should be celebrating our humanity. We should be celebrating our struggle. That, to me, is way more beautiful than just a constant upload of false perception. I just think it makes the depression rate and anxiety rate go up. I think in order to combat it, we need to speak honestly about it.
VG: You have been instrumental in raising awareness about suicide among LGBTQ youth. In fact, you received Trevor Project’s Hero Award in 2017. What has made you such a champion for the LGBTQ community?
DR: Our band has a large following of families. We play these shows around the world and I get to see, meet and greet these whole families that come out our shows. It’s the type of show that a family comes to; I’m very aware of that.
I was raised in a very conservative home. A lot of my friends were conservative orthodox faith and, for a young kid, that’s not by choice. You are born into a religious family; that’s the rule of the home. I have many friends who are Mormon, and gay from a young age. They knew it and I knew it. They had to hide it, and they felt shame and guilt and anxiety. Watching that painful process for them, and watching them feel like they didn’t get to love, that God did not approve of the way that they were born, never sat right with me.
When I was young I’d go to church, and there were teachings about how it was sinful to be gay. It didn’t add up. It didn’t make sense in my head, how this ultimate, loving God could possibly tell people it’s OK for you to love but not for you to love. It just didn’t, it didn’t make sense. So as I’ve gotten older, it became more important to me to use this platform and the incredible amount of privilege that I’ve been given to do something and to hopefully perpetuate some sort of change, especially within the orthodox religion. And I think I just saw that there was a chance for me to do something, because I come from these religious roots, and we had a lot of people of faith that follow our band and, I think, it’s time for change and the people are ready for change. It’s the leaders, the religious leaders and political leaders that are perpetuating this dangerous false rhetoric that is hurting our youth (by telling) them that they are broken or less than. And it’s false.
And so, I think it’s just the universe or journey or whatever it was and having dealt with my own fault guilt growing up…you know, I was kicked out of college. I was kicked out of Brigham Young University for sleeping with my girlfriend. And that was a really humiliating experience for me. I went through a lot of guilt and shame and had to move home back with my parents after I had worked hard to get into that college.
And so I think there were a lot of things that just kind of came together. It’s kind of a convoluted long answer, but for whatever reason, I saw, like, a path that I needed to go down and there was something to be done here. And you know, I felt like I could do something with even just a little effort, you know, just speaking out about it, putting on a festival and standing up and saying what my heart feels.
VG: Your work has already created change in the church. A few days ago, the Mormon church changed its to allow children of same-sex couples to be baptized. I don’t know if you saw that.
DR: Absolutely, I saw it. You know, Love Loud, which is the charity that I put together and the festival we put on in Utah to raise money for LGBTQ charities and raise awareness about suicide and depression and anxiety rate amongst our LGBTQ youth within the walls of religion. We’ve been committed to really working with the church and not just the Mormon church, but all orthodox faith and communities, to really foster constructive dialogue and discussion about how to strengthen ties and bring families, friends, and neighbors together to really accept and love our LGBTQ. What does that look like? What does that mean?
A lot of people of orthodox faith say we love our LGBTQ youth, but — and there’s always a “but.” That “but” is what makes them have that eight times higher suicide rate because that’s not acceptance. If you’re saying there’s a “but” or reservation upon your acceptance, then that’s not real love.
So long story short, I think the development represents definitely a small step in the right direction to the church. But I do still think there’s a lot of work to be done to say you’re no longer an apostate. You know, “Well, thank you for calling our LGBTQ youth that,” but they’re still saying that it’s sinful, which is still damaging, absolutely going to hurt our youth. It’s a small step in the right direction, but there have been a lot of lives that were lost since then. There have been many ties to suicide amongst our youth in the Mormon church after that policy was put out that people have shown to relate and correlate with that policy being put out. So there was a lot of harm that was done and a lot of people that were hurt.
So it’s a small step, but there’s a lot of work yet to be done. I’m glad that the church put that out and I hope other orthodox faiths continue to take these steps. But we at Love Loud — there was a lot of work to be done. Until they’re welcomed in full fellowship and seen as clean and pure and given all the same rights as heterosexual couples, then I think we’re going to continue to see high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide amongst our LGBTQ youth in orthodox faith.
VG: Will you share an experience with one of your fans?
DR: Just the other day I was at the gym here in Los Angeles and I had a teenager, I want to say seventeen or eighteen years old, come up to me and told me that he had just watched the documentary. He was trans and he was emotional and telling me how much it meant. He came from orthodox faith and I got emotional, both of us standing in the middle of the gym, you know, super bro crying and hugging. That to me is the relationship with our fans.
It feels like so much more than just a band. There’s so much that we as a band and our fans have gone through and journeys that we’ve taken together, people from so many different backgrounds all over the world. And especially now, I think with this thing that we’re so passionate about, which is our youth and in mental health and LGBTQ rights, it really brings a certain sense of camaraderie. People who believe in a cause together, you know. One of the things I was going to say was, as you were telling me, you came from orthodox faith, orthodox faith is still important to me. I still claim Mormonism. There is still a lot about it that I love, and I do feel that there are so many people of faith that are wonderful loving, non-bigoted good people, they want our LGBTQ to be seen as clean. They want that, they are waiting for their leaders to give revelation.
They’re waiting for the leaders to change their ways, you know, and they are conflicted. And so this is not a battle, I’m not in a battle against orthodox faith. That is my background. But what I am looking for is for our leaders to recognize the harm that has been done and to remedy it. Because it’s so simple for everybody on the outside who is not of faith or wasn’t raised with orthodox faith. I’ve had so many people say, why you don’t just tell all these kids religion is false. That’s such a naive thing because that puts the kid in more danger because a lot of times they can be kicked out of their homes, or it’s important to them and they believe it. You know, they believe that religion is important to them. They should be able to have it and be healthy, just like a heterosexual person should have that right. Anyway, it’s just, I’m really passionate about our leaders stepping up, our political leaders or religious leaders and so I think it’s a small step what the church has done and there are ways to go.
VG: Aside from your own charity, what other causes or charities are important to you?
DR: The things that I’m really passionate about are LGBTQ rights, mental health, is really important to me because it’s like you said, you know, it’s something that I think of my own throughout my life. And so raising awareness, de-stigmatizing what it means to be depressed and have anxiety and how it doesn’t make you broken. It’s important for kids to have therapists available to them.
Also, the band started a pediatric cancer foundation years back called the Tyler Robinson Foundation. It was named after a fan of the band who passed away from cancer at far too young an age. So we’ve raised a lot of money for pediatric cancer families to help alleviate all the expenses that come with having a child who has cancer.
We started that a few years back, so I’m really passionate about that.
And I have an autoimmune disease, Ankylosing Spondylitis. I started a campaign to raise awareness about Ankylosing Spondylitis because it’s kind of a hidden disease. Not many people know about it. So I want to bring it to the mainstream and hopefully raise more funds to try to find a cure for this autoimmune disease that I’ve had for about a decade now. So those are the main things that I focus on.
VG: Are there any other projects that we should know about?
DR: I love art and all types of arts, so looking to dive a little bit into the realm of film and TV maybe and things like that, but nothing to announce yet. Just thinking ahead as I grew up doing drama and enjoying it quite a bit, so we’ll see.
VG: Tell me a secret — a good one.
DR: I would say that it was a secret that my wife was pregnant with our fourth and we’re having a baby boy, but I announced that just the other day. So it’s not a secret anymore.
Let me think for a second…a good secret…trying to think of a good secret.
All right! Here’s a secret. I have dreams quite often about Tom Hardy and me and him being best friends. I had like a dream last night that we were playing Monopoly together and it’s like this constant reoccurring strange thing. Of course, I keep a secret, but now it’s not a secret, I guess. I don’t fully understand. I guess, hopefully, one day I’ll be friends with Tom Hardy. I’m sure that will really make him want to be friends because it’s not creepy at all to have a recurring dream about a celebrity.