Just when you thought the LoveLoud festival coverage itself was already plenty to digest, here’s more. Before its slated performers were to take the stage, the event’s sponsors held a press conference (and red carpet). While the conversation was certainly not essential in allowing audiences to enjoy the show to come, it provided essential contextualization for why prominent community LGBTQ youth-centered organizations have teamed up with the LoveLoud Foundation to incite change — and why this change is necessary. Here are the highlights of the LoveLoud Press Conference.
In order of appearance in the above photo, the panel featured Ken McNeely (President of AT&T’s Pacific Region), Amit Paley (CEO of the Trevor Project), Tegan Quin (Tegan and Sara Foundation), Dan Reynolds (LoveLoud founder), Lance Lowry (festival executive director), and Stephenie Larsen (Encircle founder). Questions covered everything from how the panelists define “success,” to more substantive inquiries regarding LGBTQ youth suicide, religion and societal stigmas as contributors to this epidemic, and the role that the LoveLoud Festival has played in spurring conversation among LGBTQ youths and their parents on topics of belongingness and worthiness.
On how they would define “success”:
Dan: “To me, the LGBTQ [youth’s] greatest desire is to not have to continually explain why they love who they love. There are many successes along the way. One was walking to this press conference right now. I just had a beautiful girl come to me and tell me that she had just transitioned, and she felt like LoveLoud gave her a safe space with her parents to transition. The successes in the meantime are [them] not taking their lives…to change the culture; destigmatize this, so we can stop having these conversations.”
On what message they’d give LGBTQ youths grappling with their sexual orientation and religious communities:
Tegan: I was in a relationship for five years with someone from a very religious household. She was excommunicated when they broke into her email and found out we were together. She lost her whole family, all her friends…and it was really awful. I was really young at the time; I was in my twenties and I had a really supportive family. They struggled when I came out. Their kids were telling them, “My life’s going to be hard. My life’s going to be different.” That’s tough for any parent… I think LoveLoud’s providing space to start to have those conversations, and regardless of religion or not, because I was not religious, it’s a process. I don’t believe that every person that comes to a Tegan and Sara show thinks it’s okay that I’m gay. But they still show up. There’s still something that connects us, and I think today is an example where we can find solidarity in our music, our community, and our youth to have a necessary conversation about the next steps so…our kids hopefully grow up to be leaders in our community and not have to excommunicate themselves.
Stephenie: In Provo, most of the students who come there…85 percent of the youths have a Mormon background. And just because they are LGBTQ doesn’t mean that all of a sudden, they don’t believe in their religion. But that leaves them believing is that “God won’t love me the way I am. My parents won’t understand’…And they need to understand that God does love them. They find themselves in this place where all of a sudden “I don’t fit in my religion; I don’t fit in my community…That’s a sin right there, that they would feel this way.” Once you get to know each other, that’s where the love begins, and things change.
Amit: I want to echo that. I think it’s an extremely important message that we let LGBTQ young people know that you can be a person of faith and be part of the LGBTQ community. They are not mutually exclusive. It may be the case that there are young people where it’s not safe for them to come out to their parents, and for those people, I want to let them know there are still many places for them to go to get help and support; at Encircle, at the Trevor Project, we hear from tens of thousands of people every year. Even if you can’t talk to someone in your family or community, you are not alone.
On what’s to come in next year’s festival, and its exigence:
Dan: “One of the things we were trying to push this year is that this is not a ‘Mormon problem.’ This is an Orthodox religion issue. Mormonism is the approach that made sense for me because that’s what I was raised in…it’s what I know. My friends who were gay and Mormon, those were the stories I grew up with.
This needs to be way bigger than “Hey, Mormonism, you’re hurting our youth!” Which kind of was our theme last year. That’s why it was really rad to have people like AT&T come on board and say, “Yeah, we’re gonna help you livestream this in front of millions of people.” The sad thing to me that I keep hearing is, just today, I posted about LoveLoud and one of the top comments was a guy [who said], “Everybody’s talking about helping LGBTQ people. They’re fine! Things are good! Let’s talk about something else.” Which I’m sure is relevant and important. But that is not a truth. We’re not in a safe place for LGBTQ youth. The statistics are showing it; you can’t argue with that. One of my friends who’s deeply involved with LoveLoud, he tells me every day he walks through a parking garage, he doesn’t hold his boyfriend’s hand because he fears what that means. He lives in Salt Lake City, which most people would say is actually a progressive place…but that doesn’t mean that it’s safe, obviously.”
Amit: I’d like to expound on that. Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people in the United States, and in some states like Utah, it is the number one reason that young people die. And in the LGBTQ community, the statistics are even more heartbreaking. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual young people are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. Some statistics show that almost half of trans people have attempted suicide in their lives. This is a public health crisis, not just in Utah, but across the country.
Stephenie: “Sometimes I believe that this is a Utah problem. But as I speak more to individuals throughout the country…I get emails every day from people saying, ‘I live in Alabama; I live in California, and I don’t feel safe’… These are beautiful children who have so much to offer the world, and they should be leading our companies. And we need to give them confidence in who they are so they do all they were made to do.”
On the success of LoveLoud so far:
Dan: The real success stories are ones that happen around the dinner table, at home, behind closed doors. I’ve run into countless posts of people saying that this has given them a safe place, and has opened up their family’s eyes enough that they feel like, “Even though my mom might not accept this, she came to LoveLoud with me, and I saw she was moved. I feel safe to come out to her.’
I have a lot of love for Utah, because I went to BYU even though they kicked me out (laugh). I have a lot of family and friends who live here. Utah, I watched with they’ve done homelessness. It’s incredible. You guys have done some things that I think a lot of the nation can learn from. So for me, Utah’s primed and ready to go. There are a lot of good people here, there’s a large gay community here. We’ve got everything we need to now show the U.S. that Utah does this the best. I wanna see the headline, “The Most Mormon State in America is Now the Lowest Suicide Rate for LGBTQ Youth.” “The Most Accepted.” “The Place to Be.” I know a lot of Mormons who are really good people. Are they perfect? No. I genuinely believe it could happen… to show the world that in the last place they’d expect it to happen in the U.S., now look what happened. And why? The community rallied together.
The panel was followed by an all-star red carpet event. The speakers reappeared, and were followed by festival performers, including Neon Trees’ Tyler Glenn, transgender activist Carmen Carrera, comedian Cameron Esposito, Glee’s Heather Morris, and drag queen Shangela.
Go here to check out a full photo album of the conference, red carpet event, and festival.
See our review of the entire festival here.