- Phoebe Melikidse
June 29 is a significant date in American history. In 1969, the Stonewall uprising in New York City represented a monumental leap toward LGBTQ rights, as queer women and men asserted their right to exist in the face of violence and repression by the police.
This month, at Pride parades and gatherings around the world, LGBTQ advocates and allies are marking the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. And one of the biggest celebrations occurs here in the Salt Lake Valley, with the third annual LoveLoud Festival, on June 29 at Usana Amphitheatre.
Headliners include international pop superstar Kesha and supporting acts like Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, Tegan and Sara, Daya, K. Flay, PVRIS, Laura Jane Grace and many more. In addition, speakers like Parkland shooting survivor and gun-control advocate Emma González will make an appearance.
Started in 2017, LoveLoud has steadily expanded. It began in its inaugural year at Utah Valley University's Brent Brown Ballpark in Orem before moving to the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium last year.
"This has been a trial-and-error experience," says Reynolds, who founded LoveLoud and its accompanying non-profit foundation to disseminate a message of acceptance and inclusion for LGBTQ youth. "The first year was super hard, and we got turned down by a lot of different venues. We had no idea how to put on a festival, and by 'we' I mean 'me.' Being [at Usana Amphitheatre] this year speaks to the community of Utah and how they've rallied behind this. With a more diverse lineup, I think it's going to be our biggest year yet."
Last year's festival raised more than $1 million for local and national initiatives, he said, and provided resources to organizations supporting LGBTQ youth like The Trevor Project, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, Tegan and Sara Foundation and Encircle. The event's live stream reached more than 7.2 million viewers. And Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox declared July 28, 2018, "LoveLoud Day," which, observers say, reflected the work Reynolds and his team undertook to have a constructive, respectful dialogue with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about its public stance on homosexuality, marriage equality and the treatment of LGBTQ youth.
"Last year was profound," says Tegan Quin, a longtime queer artist and activist who fronts Tegan and Sara alongside her twin sister. "Every Tegan and Sara show is like a mini-LoveLoud because we're surrounded by queer artists and allies. I thought I had become desensitized to anything queer, but to be at Rice-Eccles Stadium and to feel the profound connection between the speakers and performers on stage and the people in the audience was so positive. I was losing my mind at the young, queer kids getting up and talking about their experiences while everyone was cheering for them. It's hard to put into words."
While entertainment is at LoveLoud's forefront, it's underlying mission is dead serious. According to the Center for Disease Control, Utah's teen suicide rate has climbed nearly 25% each year from 2011 to 2017. Research by the Family Acceptance Project, The Trevor Project and the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that LGBTQ youth who are rejected by their families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide, while each episode of LGBTQ harassment or abuse increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by a factor of 2.5.
This year, LoveLoud Festival is donating proceeds to organizations that provide counseling and safe havens to school programs and summer camps that provide a safe space for LGBTQ youth, and to initiatives that raise LGBTQ representation in the media. "We're really meticulous about selecting the most effective organizations doing important work that aligns with LoveLoud's vision," Reynolds says. "We have lofty goals of taking LoveLoud beyond Utah and beyond the world of Mormonism, which accounts for only 1% of the U.S. population, to tackle what's happening in other communities of orthodox faiths. We have our eyes on a lot of different things. But it all starts with doing it right in one location."
- Tyler Kandel
Tegan Quin says her first imperative when Reynolds asked her to join LoveLoud's board was simple: more women, more queer artists, and more creative diversity. "There were so many years when Sara and I felt so alone in our work," Quin says. "We were meeting young LGBTQ people and their families, and they were telling us how important it was that we were out and open about who we are. But it's so much more meaningful to be involved with something like LoveLoud, where you get to see just how many people care about the LGBTQ community."
Echoing the sentiment, this year's lineup is dominated by a variety of diverse voices: Kesha's battle against the misogyny of the music industry makes her one of the most recognizable female performers of the 21st century, while rising pop stars Daya and K. Flay have publicly embraced their queer identity. Laura Jane Grace might be the most outspoken transgender artist on the planet, populating her ferocious punk rock with brutally honest narratives about gender dysphoria and transformational surgeries.
"It's incredibly impactful," Quin says of this year's roster. "LGBTQ+ identified people buy something like twice as many concert tickets as any other group. They're looking for community in a way that is hard to put into words. They want to feel like they belong. As our queer spaces disappear—maybe because we don't need them as much because we're more accepted into society—concerts become this incredible place for LGBTQ+ people to come together. And events like this can affect cultural change first, which can then influence more substantial changes in institutions like the LDS church and state legislatures, where our protections can be put in place."
Reynolds cites the federal passage of marriage equality protections as a pivot point for local Mormons, many of whom have been vocal about their wrestle with the LDS church's stance on LGBTQ rights. "When that fight happened, Mormons were pitted against each other, and the membership was urged to get out and vote, which is not a typical thing for the church to do," he says. "A lot of Mormons were conflicted in their hearts about it, so LoveLoud started as a place to say, 'It's OK to have this dialogue. Let's at least sit at the table and talk about it.'"
Reynolds believes that those kinds of conversations are necessary: "LoveLoud had to come from someone within," he reiterates. "It had to feel like a Mormon-ish event. That's off-putting to some people, but I know Mormons. If someone is banging on your door and wants to say something, a lot of times Mormons will lock the door, double down and not listen. But if a Mormon is saying, 'Hey, this feels off,' they'll listen a little bit more. That's a sad truth—and maybe it's true of a lot of orthodox faiths.
"But Utah is a lot more progressive than people say it is," Reynolds continues. "Salt Lake City is very queer, and a lot of incredible people have been waging the battle for equality. LoveLoud is not the first." Reynolds cites Troy Williams with Equality Utah as a particularly inspiring activist. "Troy has been doing a really delicate dance, trying to speak to the church and the queer community. It's a difficult tightrope to walk, and he's been doing it for a long time. People like that have primed the conversation, and LoveLoud is just trying to stoke the fire."
As a native Canadian, Tegan Quin says her perspective is quite different. She and her sister have walked arm in arm with activists the world over, but she still cites Utah as an inspiring example of the potential for change. "Seeing queer artists and allies on stage is powerful and meaningful to our community," she says. "It still makes me feel protected, seen and cared for to have people like Dan stand up and say, 'This is a marginalized community that's still under attack, so we need to fight for them and their protections.' I can't imagine how that feels to a 16-year-old trans kid from a rural, religious community who's going to come to LoveLoud or watch it online and say, 'Look at all these people—they care about me.'"