Neon Trees lead & “Kinky Boots” star, Tyler Glenn, exposes Mormonism

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Tyler Glenn in
Tyler Glenn in "Kinky Boots" on Broadway
Tyler Glenn on Mormonism in Believer on HBO

If there is one man who is not afraid to test the waters within the world of entertainment, it is Tyler Glenn. He is the 34 year-old front man of the band Neon Trees. Glenn also stars as Charlie Price in the hit Broadway musical Kinky Boots. In his latest project he provides a first-hand look into the dark side of the church of Mormon when it comes to the treatment of its own LGBT congregants.

Glenn came out in 2014. Despite being a life-long Mormon he learned of the Church’s hostile opposition firsthand. He was forced to leave the church as depicted in the HBO documentary, Believer.

Fast forward to today, with the help of Imagine Dragons front man Dan Reynolds, Glenn has coordinated the annual LoveLoud Festival. It promotes greater LGBT inclusivity in the Mormon community. In this interview Tyler Glenn opens up. He discusses HBO’s Believer, his transition to Broadway, the future of Neon Trees and why, in such a creative industry, many musicians continue to remain deep within the closet. Buckle up.

Will Loschiavo: What was it like working on HBO’s Believer with LGBT ally and fellow Mormon Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons?

Tyler Glenn and the band Neon trees
Tyler Glenn and the band Neon trees

Tyler Glenn: Having been raised Mormon and served missions, I have known Dan socially for over fifteen years. Yet, it was not until the last year and half in which we got to know each other on a personal level. Dan and I have become exceptionally close. The fact that he is using his platform to educate is beautiful to witness. Showcasing his genuine struggles reconciling his faith, his views and the way he was brought up is something much of America can relate to yet doesn’t readily discuss. I am honored to be a part of this journey and to be a part of his life.

How was it coordinating the LoveLoud Festival?

TG: It is comforting to think that we only started discussing this in April 2017. It has only been a little over a year. But yet it’s grown from a grassroots movement to a hugely successful event which is attracting larger acts and sponsors this year. Originally, I received a call from Dan apologizing for not having been there for me when I came out publicly in 2014. He wanted to do something to change the situation and wanted to include me. We began discussing the concept of a concert which ultimately led to this film and foundation. The fact that Dan would include me, validate me, give me an opportunity to share my story, is everything. I couldn’t ask for more.

Do you feel LGBT Mormons have not come as far as the rest of the community?

During Pride Month, the community itself and media often reflect on how far we have come as a unit. Yet, this documentary intricately exposes the painful ostratization of gay people within the Mormon community. Do you feel LGBT Mormons have not come as far as the rest of the community?

Tyler Glenn
Tyler Glenn

TG: As a gay man and former Mormon, I must emphasize that it is not the LGBT youth within Mormonism who have not come as far. It all points back to the culture and the church itself, which Believer showcases. I am fortunate to have traveled the world with my band and to have been — cultured. I have learned that much of the world has progressed and moved past the dark side of organized religion. Yet, when you move outside the New York and Los Angeles Metropolitan regions, there are many pockets within our own country which have not progressed. This is the purpose of HBO’s Believer.

Mormonism is very behind in much of its doctrines. I don’t even believe in it anymore. I think the religion is fraudulent. Honestly, I wish LGBT people would leave the church of Mormon because I do not feel it is a safe space whatsoever. Having said that, as my own experience has taught me, I understand it is not that simple. I came out at 30 years old because I tried so hard to make it work. And I am happy to share my story in this film because I hope it comforts those struggling. I want them to be able to find the comfort and solace they need to move forward.

In 2014, when you came out in Rolling Stone, you stated you were going to make being gay and Mormon work. Yet, today you feel LGBT people should leave the church altogether. Where do you stand religiously as well as spiritually now and why the change of heart?

TG: In the film I discuss how, in late 2014, new official policies against homosexuality came to light in which children of same-sex couples would not be blessed or baptized until they turn 18. At that point they would have to then disavow same-sex marriage. This was the last gut punch for me. Thereafter I walked away. This opened my eyes to look into not just how the church treats LGBT people; but to look at the history of the church itself.

We live in a time where information is much more readily available to us than ever before. I feel most organized religion, whether pure in heart or not, is unnecessary. This is why I left religion behind. There was a period of time where I felt there was no God at all. I am slowly rebuilding that. I spent so much time making myself fit into a round hole. But I am a square peg. This is why I am grateful to use my platform to share my story because, as I have learned during this film, I am certainly not alone. I am relieved to no longer have to adhere to things which do not apply to me.

The teachings of the Mormon Church have nothing to do with the homosexual experience, and never validated me to have any purpose worth living. It contributed to my fear of suicide. I left a lot of things behind because I do not have that influence anymore. Having religion out of my life has only made my life feel more fulfilling and worthwhile.

Has leaving the church impacted your relationships with family and long-term friends?

TG: Ultimately, the outcome has only been positive. Nevertheless, it was an extremely scary and isolating experience initially. It also wasn’t instant. When I came out and left the church my parents freaked out. My older brother stopped speaking to me for a long time. Half of my band is Mormon. It was difficult. Since then, there has been a lot of rebuilding, and those aforesaid relationships have only grown stronger and more genuine. My parents pretty much left the church. That’s profound to me given that they are in their sixties. It must be difficult to leave everything you have known your entire life. And for that, I give them credit.

“There are certainly pockets of Christianity which are more welcoming than others”

When do you think, if ever, religious communities will stop coming down on its own members merely because they identify as LGBT?

Tyler Glenn in "Kinky Boots" on Broadway
Tyler Glenn in “Kinky Boots” on Broadway

TG: I have hope, yet become bitter at times. There are many myths in relation to viewing organized religion as a necessity. I understand that religion is tangible and something people thrive on. And I don’t want to count it out for those who need it.

I have seen things change considerably within Catholicism. It is exciting to witness the Pope acknowledge his LGBT members. And I also realize there are certainly pockets of Christianity which are more welcoming than others. Ultimately it comes down to sharing stories and chipping away at the wall. I just want there to be space for people to experience life the way they should, and the way that is right for them. Often times, organized religion takes away from that experience, and makes you conform to something that may not be 100% meant for you.

You mention in Believer that prior to coming out, you were a master compartmentalizer. You were able to compartmentalize a version of Mormon that fit. Although the music and entertainment industries are considered very liberal fields, why do you think musicians like yourself many times still stay in the closet in 2018?

TG: I think there is still a lot of bigotry within the music industry and within the entertainment industry as a whole. As much as I enjoy that, there are movements now which are exposing the truth of those industries, I feel that particularly within the music industry there is a lot of homophobia, and especially transphobia.

I am happy that I have a platform to share my story. I am also grateful that my LGBT friends, such as mega pop songwriter Justin Tranter, are changing the game. Bigotry still exists in the creative fields. Yet, every little push helps to break it down. As happy as I am that Pride has become mainstream in New York and Los Angeles, with major sponsors and branding throughout, and rainbows everywhere, I always have to remind myself and my friends where we came from. We can’t become complacent to the idea that homophobia doesn’t exists. I still often feel pushed down by ‘things’ just because of who I am. I am happy that there are movements progressing us forward. But I don’t want us to be disillusioned to the fact that we are still oppressed.

How is it to go from keeping your sexuality under wraps to starring as Charlie Price in Broadway’s Kinky Boots? Describe your experience performing on Broadway in your first play.

TG: Broadway itself has been a wonderful opportunity and a great challenge as a performer. Playing Charlie Price has been interesting because it has brought back memories of me trying to be straight for thirty years of my life. I got many flashbacks of trying to deepen my voice and act a certain way because I did not want to be found out. Charlie is a character who is quite opposite of me; he has the best intentions yet is still a straight British guy with privilege. It takes him the entire show to realize he is a homophobic, transphobic guy who ultimately needs to learn a lesson from a drag queen. Many of the things I say as Charlie are things I would never say in real life.

This is such a palatable piece of work, which much of middle America comes to see either because they heard it won a Tony, or because it is a well-known show. In the end, they realize there is a lot of heart and a beautiful lesson to be had. It is inspiring to see many people who otherwise would never be exposed to drag culture, much less a story like this, standing and signing in the end.

Whats is next for Tyler Glenn?

What is next for you musically, as a solo artist as well as for Neon Trees?

TG: I have written approximately 40 songs this year, and I can already tell which ones I would use for the band, and which ones for myself. The band and I have not released a record since 2014’s Pop Psychology. We are finally in a place where we are eager to start working on new material and ultimately start touring again. That is the next project we will most likely tackle come Fall 2018. I really enjoy how music is right now because the rules are less, and in turn, I think artists are able to be more creative with the way people consume music. I am really excited to get back in the mix because it has been a minute since we have been on the grind.

As you star in Broadway’s Kinky Boots, what has your personal life been like relocating to New York City and living on the east coast? Moreover, what are some of your favorite gay bars to hit up?

TG: I love New York. Being in Neon Trees, over the last decade I have visited New York countless times. However, living here is an entirely different animal. And especially so while doing a Broadway show considering how demanding the schedule is. I live in the Hell’s Kitchen area so there are many fun gay bars. And I really enjoy Vodka Soda/Bottoms Up. I also go to The Eagle, which may not be for the faint of heart. (Laughs) But I do enjoy it.

Believer is available on HBO and partners’ streaming platforms. To purchase tickets to Kinky Boots go to Ticketmaster or visit kinkybootsthemusical.com.