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LoveLoud Festival draws 17,000 with bands, messages of acceptance

OREM — Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds isn’t sure how to measure the success of Saturday night’s LoveLoud Festival at helping gay youth and building bridges between Mormons and the LGBTQ community.

At the very least, he had plenty of help from prominent members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not to mention a statement of support from the church issued weeks ago in effort to help children: "We applaud the LoveLoud Festival for LGBT youth's aim to bring people together to address teen safety and to express respect and love for all of God’s children."

Steve Young threw Nerf footballs from the stage. Michael McLean sang with his gay son, Jeff. Tom Christofferson spoke as the active LDS gay brother of a Mormon apostle. Students from the BYU Music Dance Theatre program performed.

And more than 17,000 people filled Brent Brown Ballpark on the campus of Utah Valley University to enjoy a concert headlined by Imagine Dragons and Neon Trees.

"I know that there’s a community here that’s been waiting to shout and scream as loud as they can about how much they love and accept their LGBTQ youth," Reynolds said during a press conference before the event. "Today, 17,000-plus people are coming out to say, you know what, we may have different beliefs, we may come from different backgrounds, different religions, different politics, different cultures, different ethnicities, but none of those things matter. We all can agree our LGBTQ youth need us."

The goal was to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth feel loved and accepted, because LGBT people age 25 and younger complete suicides more often than their peers.

"By walking in the gates, you showed your support, you showed your love," Reynolds told the crowd. "This shows everything about Utah I knew in my heart, that it would come out to show love for our LGBTQ friends." Later he added, "I hope, I pray, not one more youth will feel the need to commit suicide. Please, we love you. We need you."

The event was more than a concert as part of the ballpark’s concourse was dotted with booths for LGBT support groups, and countless messages by speakers between the musical acts were about love and acceptance.

Reynolds set out to make sure no one who came would feel judged, and he appeared to succeed. He was grateful it was a peaceful night, other than the familiar pounding beats of beloved bands.

Sean Elliott, 29, of Orem, and his sister Lauren Butler, 27, of Provo, were the first to line up at 10 a.m. When the general admission gates opened at 4:30 p.m., in 90-degree heat, people poured down onto the baseball field toward the stage in centerfield.

Food trucks lined the warning track along the left field and right field walls. Snow cones sold fast at a stand in the first base coach’s box. While the pitcher’s mound and home plate area were roped off, the entire ballpark smelled like a baseball game, with hot dogs and fresh-popped kettlecorn.

Reynolds said the church’s statement made a tangible difference. Much of his family and many of his friends told him they would come to the festival after the statement’s release.

The advocacy booths included the Trevor Project, which has a 24/7 support line (800-4UTrevor), Stand4Kind, Affirmation, the Provo Pride Council, USGA and Encircle, whose board's co-chairwoman is Barb Young. Young spent 16-hour days organizing the concert.

Emcee Alex Boyé and Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah, served LDS missions in England together. Williams said he would have felt hope as a gay Mormon teen if LoveLoud had existed. He also expressed belief that the experience shows that national divisiveness can be healed.

"Two years ago, Equality Utah worked side by side with the leaders of the LDS Church to pass a nondiscrimination law that protected LGBTQ Utahns and people of faith from discrimination in employment and in housing," Williams said. "If Equality Utah and the (LDS) Church can work closely together, there is hope for this nation, is there not?"

LDS sisters Carly and Emily Forsyth, who are 23 and 20, respectively, drove up from St. George with their non-LDS friend, Jenni Nelson, 18, who identifies as bisexual. The three danced with two other friends in the 90-degree heat while they waited for the gates to open. Nelson said they came for the concert, but she liked the dual purpose.

"It’s really, really good to see all these people," she said. "It’s one thing to go to a pride parade where everyone is pride proud. This is different."

Christofferson, the brother of Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of the leading councils of the LDS Church, said he has prayed for his LDS and LGBTQ tribes to "love and accept, welcome and embrace" each other.

"I’m so glad my LGBTQ brothers and sisters are here," he said. "You are fabulous. I love you, and I am so grateful to be counted as one of you. I’m also glad my LDS brothers and sisters are here. You’re wonderful. I love you, too, and I’m glad to be counted as one of you."