Photo: Kylie Hemmert
Six o’clock in the morning is way too early to wake up on a Saturday, but I was on a mission. By eight we had the car loaded up and we were on the road, driving about four hours down the freeway back to our hometown of Salt Lake City. Picking up my dear friend along the way, we made our way downtown to join thousands of others crowded together in the heat and ready to spread the message of love and acceptance, with some music to help us along the way.
In 2017, Imagine Dragons and a handful of other musicians and speakers created the inaugural LOVELOUD Festival event in Orem, Utah. The Salt Lake Tribune reported about 17,000 fans showed up to support organizations for LGBTQ youth and to listen to some of their favorite artists at the Brent Brown Ballpark.
Last Saturday on July 28, 2018, LOVELOUD returned with nearly double the numbers as 30,000 people filled the Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah, and I was lucky enough to attend. The festival was full of musicians, dancers, and speakers — including Imagine Dragons, Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, Zedd, Olympian Gus Kenworthy, Grace VanderWaal, Mary Lambert, former NFL player Steve Young, Tyler Glenn, Julianne Hough, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Alfonso Ribeiro, Property Brothers’ Drew Scott, comedian/emcee Cameron Esposito, and more — sharing their hearts and stories as the even was livestreamed worldwide allowing thousands more to join in on a celebration of love, equality, and supporting LGBTQ youth.
By the end of the night, fans watching from home and those of us who purchased tickets and filled that stadium with love and light helped to raise over $1 million dollars with every cent of the proceeds going towards organizations like The Trevor Project, the Tegan & Sara Foundation, and Encircle that work to help support LGBTQ youth and save lives.
The goal for the night was to raise over $1 million, and they did that. We did that.
Imagine Dragons’ lead singer Dan Reynolds has led the way in attempting to lower the suicide rate of LGBTQ youth especially in Utah where the rate is astronomical — in fact, it’s the leading cause of death in kids ages 10 to 17. In the United States, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for teenagers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with LGBTQ youth at even higher risk of suicide. Raised as a Mormon, Dan knows how religious guilt and rejection from friends and family for being LGBTQ is correlated with the high suicide rates of young people in Utah. So, Dan created a movement that has inspired thousands in order to bring about understanding and change, recognizing that open minds and open hearts can battle ignorance, provide support, and help save our youth.
The LoveLoudFest website explains that the LOVELOUD Foundation Reynolds started has a mission to “ignite the vital conversation about what it means to unconditionally love, understand, accept and support our LGBTQ+ friends and family.” They also specifically note how the LGBTQ youth in “unaccepting homes and communities are 8 times more likely to commit suicide and 3 times more likely to engage in risky drug use.” Reynolds founded LOVELOUD in 2017 in an effort to bring communities and families together, and to offer hope to young people who need to hear that they are not alone.
I attended the event with my mom and my best friend. We sat in section N23, row 28, on the bottom of the second level and directly across from the stage. We weren’t up close, but I realized quickly how perfect the seats were because we could see and feel the energy of the entire stadium.
One moment that hit me hard was Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda’s set where he shared some stories and thoughts on top of his music. Considering the loss of his friend and LP lead singer Chester Bennington to suicide, the fight to prevent LGBTQ deaths at their own hands felt even more profound when Shinoda briefly mentioned Chester’s passing and explained why he had reached out to Dan to be a part of the festival.
A musically transformative experience was when DJ Zedd began to play and that bass hit over and over again. We watched below and all around us as the crowd moved as one, jumping to the beat and creating an addictive energy. Later, when Imagine Dragons came up and the white bracelets we received inside the gates before heading into the stadium began flashing in orchestrated lights of color illuminating the entire stadium, we saw everything. Being on the other end of the stadium made it hard to get high-quality close-up pictures of the musicians and guest speakers, but I’ll never forget being able to take in everyone and everything during an event that was so much more than just a concert.
It’s hard to pick a favorite instance in a day full of unforgettable moments, but the most meaningful moment of the festival came when comic Dana Goldberg asked the crowd to make some noise if they were LGBTQ and I was able to cheer without fear of judgment among thousands of others who felt as safe as I did. Even better was when Dana then asked for the straight allies in the audience, as well as those parents of LGBTQ attending, to let themselves be heard and my best friend and mom both clapped for me. That feeling of love and support and acceptance is what makes even the smallest moment or an eight-hour long festival so important: The money helps amazing organizations, but even just knowing you do have people in your corner willing to fight for you means the world.
I didn’t always have that type of confidence or love for myself, and feeling any type of self-worth can sometimes be challenging. But it’s events like LOVELOUD and people like Dan Reynolds who have continued to help show me that I am enough as I am, that I am not less than for being “different” — nor is anyone else — and that “normal” is a subjective, illogical idea that society has constructed.
Dan made several little speeches throughout Imagine Dragons’ closing of the festival, expressing how the simple effect of communication, understanding, and putting the heart first can be vastly influential. In 100 degree heat, we danced to the music and cheered encouragement at every talk, every person willing to come up and speak for us, on behalf of us, and to us — including those in the video montage they played featuring support from celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres –about recognizing another human being’s worth no matter their sexual identity. It was a long, hot day that was absolutely worth the sweat, tears, and even the crowded chaos once it was time to depart the stadium.
In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Reynolds explained that one of his goals is to one day see the headline: “Most Mormon state in the U.S. now has the lowest suicide rate for LGBTQ youth” to show that “this can happen in the last place you would ever think.” While LOVELOUD begins in Utah, the need for equality is worldwide, and hopefully, the message can spread. The more we spread it and recognize people and humanity as just that, the more we build towards a world where, as Reynolds spoke about at the concert, we will no longer need festivals like LOVELOUD raising money for organizations — we can all just be who we are.
Besides the fans, artists, and speakers, some companies also came through in raising funds for the festival’s campaign. AT&T was among the various sponsors for the event and as the Governor of Utah Gary Herbert declared July 28th as LOVELOUD day in Utah — with the announcement read by Lt. Governor Spencer Cox at the event — AT&T ran a campaign that for every tweet or retweet with the #LOVELOUD in it, they would donate a dollar per hashtag up to $50,000. Lyft, who was the official rideshare partner for LOVELOUD, donated $5 to the LOVELOUD Foundation for every ride to the festival. Instead of taking UTA back to our room, we took a Lyft back to the hotel and even that was a great experience to top off a pretty incredible day.
LGBTQ community: You are loved, you are needed, and you are enough as you are. Straight allies: Please continue to have our backs.
If you want to check out the entire festival, you can view the LOVELOUD 2018 livestream below!