Neon Trees rocker says he’s gay — and still Mormon

Neon Trees rocker says he’s gay — and still Mormon March 26, 2014

At some point, coming-out stories about faith-claiming celebrities, musicians, politicians — anyone in the public eye — will cease to be newsworthy.

Until then, we put up with the half-written attempts by news outlets and magazines to tell their stories. I say half-written because rarely do these pieces come close to a proper attempt at reconciling the subjects’ claims of sexual orientation with their faith backgrounds in any meaningful way. (For the record, that includes comment from someone representing the denomination with which the newly heralded LGBT identifies himself/herself.)

The latest example is Rolling Stone’s narrative on alternative rock group Neon Trees’ lead singer Tyler Glenn. Glenn, a lifelong member of the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tells the magazine he is gay and has known since he was 6 that he was attracted to men. He also describes his first date with another man, indicating he will pursue that type of relationship in the future.

Glenn also says that he still considers himself a Mormon, although the church’s doctrinal position on homosexuality is clear: Sexual activity should only occur between a man and a woman who are married.

One might think that Rolling Stone would seek out a quote from a church representative, given the situation. Not in this story. No quote from anyone in the church, although we do hear from Glenn’s mother, also a Mormon, as well as others connected to the group — whose members all profess Mormon faith. And no word from Neon Trees fans, whom Glenn admits might be upset when they hear the news:

“I don’t know what the rumors are, but we’re not taught that ‘homos are going to hell’ on Sunday in church,” he says. “Mostly it’s just about Christ and his teachings.” Glenn lives about 15 minutes outside of town in a cookie-cutter three-bedroom rental, where he spends most of his time either cooking or watching TV. (He also doesn’t drive.) He has decorated the walls with eyeballs, skulls and a life-size cutout of a naked Morrissey (with a 45 record covering his arsenal).

Like Glenn, the other three members of Neon Trees were raised Mormon. And while the band has no overt religious affiliation, it credits the Church of Latter-day Saints’ strict ordinances against drinking and drugs — which the members have adopted as band rules — with helping its rise. The question is: Will Neon Trees’ hometown fans embrace songs like “Living in Another World,” off their upcoming album Pop Psychology, knowing that they are about Glenn’s struggles with his
sexuality? “I hope they don’t feel like we’re pulling the rug out from under them,” he says.

The story is heavy on Mormon details, providing the number of churches in Provo (61) and the percentage of its population that are adherents to the faith (88 percent). We’re told of Glenn’s two-year mission to Hastings, Neb., and how he baptized 17 people. No quotes from any of  those converts, either.

So much detail, so little meaning.

If you’re not going to quote a church official, then at least ask relevant questions of your subject. I’m stymied by the disconnect, because it is so obvious to me that the question that screams asking to Tyler is, “How can you reconcile your announcement about being gay with your church’s stance on homosexuality?” We won’t even tread into Glenn’s revelation that he sneaked into closets to listen to his favorite bands, as the young missionaries were forbidden to listen to secular music.

And really, with hits written by Glenn such as “Sleeping With a Friend,” and “Living in Another World,” were his band mates and fans not even a little curious about his muse, much less an emerging agenda?

 Now Glenn sees an opportunity to reshape the idea of a gay rock star. “I’ve gotten tired of kind-of gay or straight people being pop culture’s gay [spokespeople] – like Macklemore,” he says. “It makes me wonder, ‘Are we ready for an actual gay pop star and not just the safe straight guy saying it’s OK?’ I appreciate the fact that Michael Stipe was able to just be who he was, and it rarely overshadowed the music.”

The reality is that Glenn wants to embrace a faith and its community, but doesn’t want to be bound by its doctrine or reshaped by its rules for living. And Rolling Stone wants to write a story about a newly outed gay Mormon rocker but not ask how he can possibly call himself all three at once.

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9 responses to “Neon Trees rocker says he’s gay — and still Mormon”

  1. I guess the press will accept his self-definition of being a practicing Mormon, the same way they accept the self-definition of being a ‘devout’ Catholic by one who has not attended worship in years.

  2. Can anyone who violates the tenets of a faith still lay a valid claim to membership?

    I suppose so, based on the number of conservative Christians who don’t love their neighbors, get caught embezzling, or toe-tap in toilets. Perhaps the press has decided that it isn’t their job to validate those claims or conduct ex officio excommunications of them in print.

    • Show me the “conservative Christians” who publicly maintain that it’s O.K. to NOT love your neighbor, to embezzle or to cruise public toilets. There’s a difference between failing to live according to your religion’s moral teachings, and publicly contradicting them. If a public figure is going to claim membership in a religious community, yet as part of his or her public persona identify with behavior forbidden by that community, it’s valid to ask about the discrepancy.

  3. “The reality is that Glenn wants to embrace a faith and its community, but doesn’t want to be bound by its doctrine or reshaped by its rules for living.”

    But the fact is that no faith community is a static entity. The doctrines and rules that characterize them are continually being reshaped and changing. It has always been the case but in recent centuries and decades the pace of this has accelerated. Certain teachings held dear to earlier generations are no longer a problem with the newer. Thankfully it is sometimes for the better in my opinion. Various members raise their concerns and objections, sometimes they win out and sometimes they don’t and they go off and form or join another group that comports better with them. For instance, it does not bother me that some of our Churches of Christ now have worship services with musical instruments.

    Sorry to learn about your autoimmune disease. I hope for you the best in dealing with that.

  4. You have a point, but everybody who’s been around the LDS church knows there are “Jack Mormons” who don’t follow the rules but are still part of the community. Then there are cafeteria Catholics and non practicing Jews and Muslims who drink wine. And there are gay members of every faith, whether or not they’re out about it. Since the position of the LDS church on the subject is widely known, I don’t see why they’d need to include a quote from a spokesman in an article in a music magazine.

  5. Come to think of it The Mormon faith is a rather new religious group, only going back about two hundred years. Even so, its doctrine and rules which Tyler Glenn presently questions once included sanction and promotion of polygamy and backward views of humans of African provenance. Glad that has changed.

    • Actually?

      1. The #1 supporters of polygamy within the church were the women of the church, as polygamy allowed the sharing of domestic duties and so gave the women involved a greater amount of personal time; this in turn resulted in many of these women having time to get involved in politics and/or obtain an education.

      2. Joseph Smith allowed African-Americans the priesthood, resulting in an integrated clergy during the 1830s and 1840s; tragically, this was one of the causes of the Missouri Conflict, as the native residents of Missouri were frightened by how “progressive” the church was for its day. The priesthood ban didn’t kick in until Brigham Young was in charge, but even then Young took a more enlightened view of things than many of his contemporaries in other denominations.

        • In what fashion?

          Apologetics website has an in-depth timeline (under the “history” tab) quite clearly showing the church’s actions in regards to race relations over the years. That should get you started in regards to the matter of the status of African-Americans within the church.

          As far as the status of women, you’ll need to look up a document entitled “Mormon Women Protest” (sadly, I lost my link as part of some data that went missing due to a recent round of computer trouble). It’s a scan of a pamphlet produced by several women of the church in response to the anti-polygamy laws of the day, one of which sought to nullify womens’ suffrage in Utah.

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