Tyler Glenn, frontman of rock band Neon Trees, is on a mission to help change people’s minds and hearts.
He is featured in the documentary “Believer,” which follows Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds on his journey to fight for love and acceptance of LGBT people in the Mormon community. Reynolds, along with Glenn, organized a festival called LoveLoud to foster love and acceptance. “Believer” airs Monday, June 25 at 8 p.m. EST on HBO.
Glenn spoke with the Blade by phone Tuesday from New York, where he is currently starring in “Kinky Boots” on Broadway.
WASHINGTON BLADE: In the documentary, you mentioned that you first came out to your producer. What made you decide to come out?
TYLER GLENN: My band, we were at a pretty great peak in our career, and I was still very, very unhappy. I was living my dream, but the things that should have been making me happy weren’t making me happy. I had a bit of a mental situation and I decided to go into therapy and cancel a tour. It was around the time that we were writing for our third record, and I started writing songs for that album. Eventually while I was in therapy, I came out to my therapist. … I realized that this identity crisis I was having really wasn’t anything at all, it really was that I just needed to be a whole person and be out there. So I tested the waters with him because we were so intimately creative and he had known me so long. … We had a long talk and I was received with such excitement. … I’d never really associated being gay with good things, to me it was always something I needed to suppress or keep hidden or be ashamed of. That started the process of me coming out slowly to my family and friends and eventually to my band and then publicly in [Rolling Stone] magazine.
BLADE: Do you still believe in the Mormon church?
GLENN: I don’t believe in the church, but I’ve neither been excommunicated nor have I removed my name from the records. I stopped believing in church and in organized religion altogether in 2016. I’m slowly rebuilding my views on faith, to be honest. I don’t know where I’m at, but I’m really happy not having religion in my life.
BLADE: In 2016, you released your solo album “Excommunication.” How do you think that album affects LGBT youth and especially LGBT Mormons?
GLENN: It’s interesting, I made that record in real time. As I was experiencing my faith crisis and abandoning Mormonism, I was writing songs and eventually made that album. I put it out on the label my band is tied to, but I never viewed it as a commercial thing, I viewed it as something I wanted to get out of me. So I kind of put it on the shelf for a while and needed to move on because it was a very painful and emotionally fraught experience creating that album. But to be able to have it out there for almost two years, the messages that I get and the people that discover that I have an album under my own name — it’s gone beyond Mormonism. It’s really made an impact on all LGBT people that had been affected or felt oppressed by religion. To me, it’s so beautiful to see it take a life of its own, you know. I didn’t think that was going to happen. It was always sort of a record that I wanted to make but I never anticipated that it would find its way into peoples’ lives in such an intimate way. I continually get messages from people discovering the songs and to me that has been a real treat and added a lot of value to an experience that was really painful for me. I’m really proud of the album but it’s an album that I rarely listen to, I rarely play from at shows, because — not to sound cliché — it’s an album that’s very personal to me, and kind of triggers stuff when I think about it. For me, it’s a really emotional thing, but it’s been cool to watch it be special for other people.
BLADE: In “Believer,” Dan apologizes to you for being a bad ally. What did that apology mean to you and what did you originally think of the idea that would become the LoveLoud festival?
GLENN: Dan and I have known each other for 15 years but never really known each other. We’ve always known of each other, we’ve run in similar circles, we know each other’s siblings and things like that, but I think when both of our bands started to become successful, there was like an air of competition. I was deeply moved that he took the time to call me, and since then he’s been so inclusive in including me in the process of his faith crisis. I’ve gotten to be really personal friends with him, which is nice because he’s always been a person in my life, but not someone I knew in a deep way. He was also a fan of “Excommunication,” and to know that he was affected by it, and that he saw my struggles and validated that, was just a beautiful gesture. And then to include me on creating LoveLoud — the whole LoveLoud foundation is just its own animal now — it’s just a really pure thing. I know that there’s often, and even in myself, questions like, “OK, but you’re this straight white guy, do we really need you to save the gay people?” But to me, I’ve gotten to know him in a way that I see his pure intentions. It’s not perfect, but he’s got pure intentions to hopefully stay loud and make people feel faith. That’s the whole message of LoveLoud, and hopefully the message people take from “Believer.” I can validate and stand by Dan as someone who is truly an ally and it’s really cool to see him grow in that way.
BLADE: How did LoveLoud affect or move people? Do you think “Believer” will do the same?
GLENN: In the credits, there are videos that people have sent to LoveLoud and kind of tell about their experiences; those are really touching to watch. A lot of personal family members and friends in that community were really moved by the event. We tried to keep it an event where everyone felt included; we didn’t want to exclude (people who are) believing Mormons, religious or didn’t understand LGBT culture; we wanted it to be a space where we were all sharing stories and music, and that’s really what it became. To see it grow and become an even bigger platform this year is really exciting. The first year, it had no big sponsors, it was very grassroots, put together through the energy and focus of everyone involved. This year, there’s gonna be bigger acts and bigger sponsors. In a way, that just shows approval from people who want it to continue to grow. The whole point of LoveLoud is to make people feel like they have a place and to change people’s lives and hearts. It’s doing that so far and it’s really cool to see.
BLADE: What message do you want LGBT teens struggling with acceptance to hear most?
GLENN: Personally, if I were to have heard or even just seen examples of healthy, open LGBT people, that would have changed my life. … For me, I want young LGBT people to know that you are absolutely perfect the way you are, that we all are struggling to find a place in this world regardless of sexuality, and I want them to know that we are divine and being queer is a superpower. I shouldn’t feel like I’m a challenge. It took me way too long to accept that. I hope and wish that young people that have that chance would take it and live their lives to the fullest and not feel like they are made to be less than.