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Dan Reynolds is best known as the man with the powerhouse voice that fills stadiums with rock and roll music along with his band Imagine Dragons, but now the musician is using his platform to send a different message. Set to premiere on Monday, June 25 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO Canada, Reynolds documentary Believer examines the devastating effect Mormonism is having on LGBTQ youth.
Growing up as one of nine children in a Mormon household in Las Vegas, Reynolds understands the pressures that come with being raised in an orthodox religion. During an interview this week with Ellen DeGeneres, Reynolds opened up about his childhood, revealing that he was expelled from the famous Mormon college Brigham Young University in Utah. After dating his girlfriend for four years, the pair were caught having sex, leading to Reynolds expulsion.
“That was a really devastating moment for me,” says Reynolds. “A lot of needless shame and guilt. It was the first time that I really felt conflicted where my heart and my mind didn’t align. I felt like, why is this thing that feels right also what gets me kicked out of college and shames me in my community and makes me feel all this guilt.”
Reynolds said it was that experience that gave him a better understanding of the shame and guilt his Mormon friends who were in the closet felt. The guilt he had been dealing with in reconciling his life as a Mormon and as someone who felt who a person loves shouldn’t matter has been the driving force in much of Imagine Dragon’s discography. “[Imagine Dragon songs] are really about a lot of guilt that I’ve dealt with since I was very young and depression and things that stemmed from unnecessary judgments.”
During the interview, DeGeneres shared sobering statistics on Utah youth, a state where the major religion is Mormonism. In Utah, the leading cause of death for teens aged 11-17 is suicide, with the rate of suicide increasing 141 per cent in recent years. It was numbers like this that inspired Reynolds to organize a concert for LGBTQ youth in Utah, an event that is featured heavily in Reynolds upcoming doc Believer.
DeGeneres and Reynolds also discussed the musician’s decision to remain a part of the Mormon religion, with Reynolds explaining that he feels he’s better able to help make a change in his community from the inside. “I really think, first and foremost, if you ever want to make real change within your community, your religion, your family, you have to be a part of it,” says Reynolds. “When you feel attacked, you shut your door and you don’t listen, even if there’s truth to be had there.”
In the trailer for Believer, Reynolds can be seen appearing on local news and radio stations promoting his LGBTQ-friendly Utah concert and responding to hundreds of messages from Mormon youth who have been in the closet or lost friends and family members to suicide. The trailer also features Tyler Glenn, the openly gay, former member of the Mormon church. His band Neon Trees also perform at the concert along with Imagine Dragons.