Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons is “one crazy mofo” Mormon on “a different mission,” as he says. That mission is to “bridge a gap” between the Mormon religion and the LGBTQ community. In EW’s exclusive trailer debut for the HBO documentary Believer, we see Reynolds’ steps toward making that hope a reality.
Named after Imagine Dragons’ 2017 hit, Believer follows Reynolds’ inner journey grappling with his Mormon upbringing and his outward journey to establish Love Loud, a pro-LGBTQ music festival in Utah that aims to raise money for charity organizations like the Trevor Project and the Tegan & Sara Foundation.
“I can’t say that there was one event or one day where I suddenly woke up and said, ‘I wanna be a [LGBTQ] ally,’” the frontman, 30, tells EW. “I think it was a lot of events over the course of my life that led me to be naturally very impassioned and feel like I could do something in a real way that could maybe help.”
Reynolds had been kicked out of Brigham Young University, the Utah-based college run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for having sex with his girlfriend at the time. He remembers being told he was “dirty in the eyes of God” — but this, he says, was “minor” compared to the “spiritual abuse” experienced by Mormon LGBTQ youth. Having lost “a couple friends to suicide,” Reynolds remarks how “devastating” it can be as a child of Mormonism to be told that “God is mad at you.”
“I think the most infuriating thing about this process [are] people who stand on the sidelines and say, ‘This is so stupid. Religion is stupid. These kids should just leave religion,’” he says. “That’s such an uneducated approach to this because that’s actually a very dangerous thing to say to a kid who’s in a religious household, because you’re potentially going to get them kicked out of their home and put them in a more dangerous position than they’re already in.”
Another stepping stone for Reynolds came when he realized, through therapy for depression, that “honesty” and “living a life of integrity” should be his priorities. “I met with a therapist who told me I needed to live my truest self and speak my truth regardless of who that hurt, and in my case that really was my family,” Reynolds says. “All are very Mormon, very active. And also our fans. We have tons of fans who are Mormon or of orthodox faith. So it’s an intimidating thing, at least it was for me, to stand up and say I feel that this is wrong.”
Tyler Glenn, of the band Neon Trees, a friend of Reynolds’ who also appears in Believer, further propelled the singer toward action. Reynolds remembers watching Glenn “go through his process [of coming out] and how he got beat up by so many members of the church.”
Glenn then released his “super ballsy” album Excommunication, which ended up alienating his band from a chunk of their religious fan base. “I watched that process and knew the only reason Tyler did that was because he had to. That’s it,” Reynolds says. “He needed to speak his truth as an artist and say, ‘I’m gay and I’m Mormon and this has not been healthy for me.’”
Believer, directed by Don Argott and produced by Live Nation Productions, represents Reynolds’ wish for a “fair” look at Mormonism’s actions toward LGBTQ youth. The film isn’t meant to appease the far right or the far left. “I’m a Mormon who is not happy with where the church is at, and I know in fact that it’s hurting our youth and even killing our youth. Period,” Reynolds says.
Becoming an LGBTQ advocate has brought “nothing but grief” to Reynolds’ Mormon family, he says. He even remembers how “fired up” they got during Sunday dinner when he said, “If Jesus was alive, he’d be a Democrat for sure.” To them, their son’s activism still feels like a “fresh” wound.
“So, no,” he clarifies, “I’m not doing this for any purpose other than my heart and the universe tells me to do this.”
Believer will premiere June 25 on HBO. This year’s Love Loud Festival, meanwhile, will kick off in Salt Lake City on July 28 with Imagine Dragons, Tyler Glenn, Zedd, and more.