Love Loud

When I was in high school, my best friend was gay, and I never knew. When he came out to me years later, I asked him why hadn’t he told me back then, and he answered, “You remember what it was like, right?” Yeah, I remembered. It was the 90’s and it was Utah County. Fear and misunderstanding were the norm, and for many LGBTQ+ youth, day-to-day life could be a terrifying experience. I’d like to think that there have been positive changes since then, but sadly, Utah’s youth suicide rate isn’t one of them.  

Instead of falling, it is climbing steadily, and has been each year, nearly four times faster than the national average. 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.  

 But Dan Reynolds, the lead singer of Imagine Dragons, and the LoveLoud Foundation are trying to change that. Last year, Dan started the LoveLoud festival to increase suicide awareness for Utah’s LGBTQ+ youth. We recently sat down to talk with Dan and Tegan Quin from the band Tegan and Sara—artists who are trying to make a meaningful impact in the lives of our youth here in Utah.  

UVHW: What inspired you to start this journey, and LoveLoud, on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community? 

 Dan Reynolds: I watched how difficult it was for friends of mine to feel safe in that space. And then I went on (an LDS) mission, and became good friends with Tyler Glenn of Neon Trees. I watched him go through his process of being Mormon and gay and coming out and how difficult that was for him to feel at odds with God. Then I married a woman who is a badass activist who helped me to find my own inner truth and speak it. It’s been a lot of different things and a lot of different people who have inspired me throughout the years as well as people like Tegan who have been doing things in this realm for a long time. I’m just trying to do my little part with the platform that I’ve been given.  

UVHW: Your film Believer aired on HBO in June. What would you want the Utah Valley audience to know about your film and how to embrace the message that you’re sharing? 

Dan Reynolds:  That it’s a safe film to watch with their children. It’s motivating, it’s emotional, it’s powerful and I truly believe it will create real change in the communities that need it most. We tried really hard to create a documentary that was honest and to convey what’s happening on ground zero with our LGBTQ+ youth within homes of faith. The question is, what can we do to change the statistics, the environment and to create a safe one for LGBTQ+ youth, and that’s what this documentary is looking to do. I hope that everyone would give it a chance to sit down and watch it and see how their heart and mind feels. 

UVHW: How can we create greater safety for our LGBTQ+ youth and as well as adults; what can we do as a community? Tegan, do you want to answer that? 

Tegan Quin: It’s so profoundly moving to watch the documentary and that’s why Sara and I and our foundation got involved with it. We want to bring the community together, not to talk about how we don’t agree, but instead to create an amazing space to come together—to have the LGBTQ+ community speaking their truth, but also have Mormons in the community who want to learn and want to be better allies or want to understand what’s going on. The community is the space to do that, and to use music to bring people together. That’s a really wonderful way to start the conversation. As queer artists, our number one job is to bring people together to a space that feels inclusive and feels warm, and I think that music is really wonderful—a great equalizer. It transcends all of our differences and brings us all together. Encouraging people to watch the documentary or come to LoveLoud is a great way to start that conversation. 

UVHW: I brought my kids to LoveLoud last year, and that really opened up the door to talk about what they heard, and what they saw, and how they felt about it. It was such a cool experience, and was such a great success. What are your hopes for year two of LoveLoud? 

Dan Reynolds:  For me, it’s that dialogue that takes place beforehand and after the concert at home, at the dinner table, at school or at church. I think that change really comes about on people’s own timelines and nobody ever changes in a deep way on matters that are this ingrained in some people’s hearts, by just having someone talk at them. I think the change comes about with time, with patience and with open dialogue and thoughtfulness. What’s the most important thing is the child sitting down with mom and dad and saying, “Hey, this is what I felt at LoveLoud. What’d you guys think?” And then the parents expressing their thoughts and then the child their thoughts and then going to school and talking to their friends about it. And that to me is how you de-stigmatize an issue and that’s how you create a safe place for LGBTQ+ youth where this isn’t even a conversation that needs to be had anymore. But hopefully there’ll be a day where LoveLoud isn’t necessary any longer. Maybe it will just take on a different life of just being a celebration of love. 

Tegan Quin: I think there’s so much negativity in the media and there’s just a lot going on in the world. It can be extremely overwhelming, and maybe a young person is experiencing anxiety or depression. Another wonderful positive about LoveLoud and the documentary is that it’s celebration, it’s positivity–it’s starting the conversation and it’s exploring a different side of the conversation. Just this morning, I was speaking to a grade four teacher who told me that they had taken their students to an event where there had been positive LGBTQ+ representation there and they had been talking about pronouns and a kid who had been really depressed and who had expressed thoughts of suicide at 10 years old, which is just devastating to hear, had come back after the field trip and said, “I now know more about myself.” This kid had been feeling like maybe he was LGBTQ+. And sometimes it’s just giving LGBTQ+ kids something to look forward to, something positive to get them through these things. You know, that’s why I think LoveLoud is important. It’s positive and we need that right now in the community. 

UVHW: Yes, we do. What are your plans or thoughts about doing LoveLoud on a national level?  

 Dan Reynolds:  My focus is really on Utah, because that’s got one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. When someone has a LoveLoud necklace on or a t-shirt, then our LGBTQ+ youth can go up to that person, and find a safe zone there. But I would like it to be an organization that represents safety to all LGBTQ+ youth, not just in the nation, but around the world, and I think it starts here. We hope to continue to do as much as we possibly can to create a real impact. 

Sources:  

https://loveloudfest.com 

https://www.sltrib.com/news/health/2017/11/30/utahs-youth-suicide-rates-growing-at-alarming-pace-new-federal-report-says/ 

 

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine 

 

Now That My Teen Has Come Out – WHAT DO I DO NOW?

Ive told my son that nothing changes, that I still love him, but I expect him to live the same standards as the rest of the family, and yet he seems more and more depressed. Why isnt this working? 

I dont want my daughters ideas about being lesbian to influence the younger kids in the family, so Ive told her not to talk about it at home. 

I think if my son is going to wear makeup, hes going to get made fun of at school. I cant stop that. 

In the September/October issue of Utah Valley Health and Wellness, I talked about parental self-care. It’s important for parents to have people to talk with who understand and don’t blame them for what they are feeling and experiencing. In the July/August issue, I talked about how to keep lines of communication open when a child “comes out” as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, etc.  In this issue, we’re going to talk about how to keep you and your teen connected. 

Some families consider that their main responsibility to a child that comes out is to continue to teach truths about sexuality and gender, and to make sure their teen does not misunderstand or ignore these teachings. In my experience with hundreds of teens from good homes, this emphasis generally results in a disconnection that makes communication feel tense and difficult. Because teens need a good relationship with parents in order to navigate the experiences of being a healthy teen, I recommend that parents: 

  1. Consider that your child may not be choosing to rebel against your teachings and beliefs as they learn new things about themselves and want to share them with you. 
  1. Recognize that your child knows where you stand with regard to teachings about sexuality and gender. 
  1. Learn to be open to hearing from your child what internalizing these ideas has been like (both recently and in the past). 
  1. Find out what your child’s hopes and dreams for themselves are, and how they may be changing. 
  1. Show respect for your child, especially as your child’s experiences are different from yours. 

These five things will make a dramatic difference in your child’s interest in re-opening a relationship with you. The most important thing is that you – as a parent – remain a steadfast connection with the world of respectful and loving relationship with your child. Children who do well – that is – avoid risky sex, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and suicidal behaviors – have parents who show respect for their childrens sense of what is true about them. (For details about the retrospective studies of families who demonstrate accepting and rejecting behaviors and the outcomes for teens, see http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/) 

If you want help navigating how to support your teen while making sure they are safe and mentally healthy (especially if identifying as a gender or sexual minority goes against your beliefs), you may want to:  

  1. Meet with other parents who have found peace in this journey (last issue listed several groups that meet in Utah County) 
  1. Meet with a therapist who can help you and your teen navigate issues of safety and mental health. 

 

Many families have found their way through this journey with greater love and appreciation for each other and for their relationships, which strengthens everyone, including parents and the younger children in the family. 

Coming Out – Part 2 Parental Self-Care

When he told me he only had crushes on boys and thats why he never dated, I started crying. 

My son told me not to tell his father that he really feels like a girl. Did I let him play with girls too much? 

I asked my daughter why her best friend identifies as lesbian, and she told me she thinks she may be one too. Im sure she is not. 

When teens come out, the world shifts. Some parents respond with denial, wanting to diminish the news. Others feel anger and want to find out who is responsible. Some parents feel sadness, anticipating a loss of shared values, a loss of future. Denial, anger and sadness are all important aspects of grief processing, and for many parents, responding to a child’s coming out is a grief experience. 

Most children talk with their parents only after years of trying to figure out what is really happening inside, and when they finally tell parents, those years are condensed into a moment that – to a parent – may feel like a dropped bomb. 

After listening to hundreds of stories of parents responding to their children’s expressions of attraction and identity, I’ve seen how important it is for parents to take care of their own emotional health afterward.*  

Here are some valuable principles to keep in mind: 

  1. Take a break to figure yourself out. Denial, anger, and grief are expected. However, if your child feels overwhelmed by your denial, anger, and grief, then healthy connecting may be more difficult. Many children “take on” their parents’ reactions and become more isolated. You may want to find another place and time to express and explore your genuine reactions. One mother told her child she loved him and needed some time to figure out her own feelings, and then she spent the afternoon at her sister’s home. Another father immediately called a counselor, reassuring his son that the counseling was intended to help the father provide healthy support for his son.  
  2. Remind yourself, “This is not a crisis.” One mother described feeling completely numb. Because Christmas was only a few days away, she felt both the pressure of the family’s expectation and the heaviness of the news. She found that repeating aloud the words, “This is not a crisis” reminded her that their family would still survive despite the new information.
  3. It’s normal to feel more upset, even though your child may seem happier. While children often feel relief after sharing feelings with parents, your feelings may begin to resemble a roller-coaster. It may seem unfair that your child has just given you the burden to carry. Breathe through these feelings and recognize that this is normal.  
  4. Find safe people to share what you are feeling. Your child may insist that you tell no one. And although it’s important to honor your child’s sense of privacy, it’s OK to let your child know that you need to talk with someone. Perhaps you and your child can agree on a trusted family member, friend, or counselor. 
  5. Limit your contact with others who are uninformed. Sometimes well-meaning friends and family have advice that is not helpful, or that undermines your confidence in yourself and your child. It’s OK to limit your contact with these people for a period of time. Plan what you will say. “We are working hard to support each other right now and I need to focus on that,” may be helpful to repeat.
  6. And finally, when you ask “Why me?” try switching to the question, “Why not me?” and see what strengths you find in yourself. Chances are you are being called to a deeper way of loving your child and yourself. 

SIDEBAR MATERIAL — Find a Parent Support Group in Utah County 

Find a parent support group. Meeting with other parents in similar situations has been a positive emotional turning point for many. Here are a few in Utah Valley: 

  1. PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meets weekly at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in downtown Provo (provopflag@gmail.com) 
  2. Encircle Parents’ Meeting (Third Sunday of each month at Encircle in Provo) https://encircletogether.org/supportgroups 
  3. Northstar Parents’ Meeting (Quarterly meeting at a parent’s home in Lehi) 

https://www.lds.org/blog/navigating-family-differences-with-love-and-trust?lang=eng  

 Next time:  Coming Out Part 3 – What do we do now? 

 

Coming Out – Part 1 When your teen opens up

“I wish I could take it back and do it over!” parents say about the moment their teens told them they were gay, lesbian, transgender, or that the teens were worried about their sexual orientation, attractions, or gender identity. “Nothing prepared me for this!” they say. Other parents remember, “My first thought was that what I was hearing was somehow my fault, that I’d been a bad parent, and I just fell apart.” Even parents who managed to say to their teen, “I still love you, it doesn’t change anything,” still sometimes have regrets and wish they could press the re-start button.

As a therapist who has listened to hundreds of family “coming out” stories, I’ve noticed that what happens during these conversations has a strong impact on feelings within the family. This first interaction between parent and teen (and each conversation that follows) either creates stronger bonds or difficult memories that parents and teens have to work through later.

What most parents want is to keep a strong relationship with their teen, to remain a positive influence for good mental, physical and spiritual health. Yet, sometimes, conversations with teens create distance rather than connection.

Why should I think about this?

Chances are you will have a teen in your family, your extended family, your neighborhood, or church community who will eventually come out to you. How you respond to this teen may make the difference in his or her decision to live a healthy life, or even to keep on living. Research suggests that teens who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning) feel the greatest positive or negative effects from their family’s reaction to them. Negative reactions from family are associated with teens’ increased risk for depression, alcohol use, substance abuse, and other dangerous behaviors including suicide attempts. Your preparing now for a possible family member’s coming out may be one of the most powerful chances you have to be a positive influence in a young person’s life.

What can I say?

Some parents feel authentic simply saying, “Oh, OK, tell me more about it when you feel like it,” and moving on. If you’re reading this, chances are that’s not you. A young person’s coming out may make you feel as if the axis of the world has shifted and you are supposed to set it right somehow. One of the least helpful ways to respond is to assume that the teen has made a choice that rejects your values.

Most teens share their feelings about attractions and identity only after they have wrestled alone with issues for weeks, months, and often years. Most are keenly afraid that their parents will feel that family values have been rejected. Even if you are the wisest person you know, it is unlikely that you will know more about the challenges of what they have been experiencing than they do. It is also unlikely that you will learn what they are experiencing without a lot of listening. The most helpful thing a parent can do may be to set the stage for future conversations.

The statements below encourage further sharing without assuming the teen wants to reject family values. These statements also make it more likely a parent will learn more about what a teen is experiencing:

I’m so glad you’re sharing this with me.

Thank you for telling me this. I’ve been wondering how I could help you.

What you are telling me is important. Most important, however, is that I love you, and this doesn’t change my love for you.

I hope you will keep talking to me about this.

This changes things for me too, and it will give me a lot to think about, but it doesn’t change how I feel about you. I still love and cherish you. We’ll work through this together.

This is hard for me, but I’m willing to do hard things as your parent. I want to be here for you to help you.

 

Next time:  Coming Out Part 2 – What now? Parent self-Care.

By Lisa Tensmeyer Hansen, MS, LMFT