Dan Reynolds Source: Scott Legato/Getty Images

Queer Ally Dan Reynolds Defends Imagine Dragons' Concert in Homophobic Azerbaijan


"Last year, System Of A Down leader Serj Tankian publicly asked Las Vegas arena-rockers Imagine Dragons to cancel a planned concert in Azerbaijan, citing that country's campaign of ethnic cleansing against Armenians," reports the music website Stereogum. The band, under singer Dan Reynolds, ignored Tankian's advice and played the concert last September, as well as one in Israel the month before, which Tankian also had issues with.

In a lengthy Rolling Stone interview, Reynolds defended playing in both countries. "I don't believe in depriving our fans who want to see us play because of the acts of their leaders and their governments. I think that's a really slippery slope. I think the second you start to do that, there's corrupt leaders and warmongers all over the world, and where do you draw the line?"

Not on queer rights, apparently, despite the ripped front man being a vocal advocate. "Reynolds has gone above and beyond to show his support for the community, including the launch of the LOVELOUD Festival (which has raised millions for LGBTQ+ charities) to even donating his Las Vegas childhood home as a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth," reported Out Magazine last October.

Reynolds' support for queer culture can be seen in the Hulu documentary "Imagine Dragons Live In Vegas." While singing their hit "It's Time" at a sold-out Las Vegas concert, Reynolds spotted a fan with a the progress pride flag. "Without hesitation," Business Insider reported, "Reynolds hoisted the flag into the air as he walked down the runway, belting the serendipitous lyrics: 'I'm just the same as I was / Now don't you understand? / That I'm never changing who I am.'"

"We care deeply about human rights, basic human rights, about the ability to love who you want," Reynolds told Business Insider. "Some of us grew up with religious backgrounds where we witnessed a lot of hate, a lot of bigotry. And I think we are looking to just take that responsibility seriously and do our best to contribute love to the world, to have a voice for those who don't get to be on a stage."

Reynolds grew up Mormon and cites the Mormon Church's anti-gay doctrine as a contributing factor to his leaving the church.

But somewhere along the way, Reynolds must have missed the memo about LGBTQ+ rights in Azerbaijan. Or perhaps not. There are no reports of him wrapping himself in a progress pride flag at last year's concert.

The LGBTQ+ website Equaldex, which compiles data on queer rights worldwide, publishes a LGBT Equality Index. Their current one (found at this link) answers the question, "Which countries are the most LGBT-friendly?" They rate the countries with an Equality Index (the most pertinent), a Legal Index (measuring legal rights and freedoms), and the Public Opinion Index (measuring public opinion.)

The site places Azerbaijan 139th out of the 196 countries surveyed. Its Equality Index is 26; it's assigned a Legal Index of 46, and A Public Opinion Index of 6. For comparison, first-place Iceland has an Equality Index of 93; a Legal Index of 95; and a Public Opinion Index of 90.

In 2000, homosexuality was made legal in Azerbaijan, but same-sex marriage is not.

"In Azerbaijan, public opinion suggests an alarming lack of acceptance for LGBTQ+ rights, raising serious questions about safety and inclusion," concludes Equaldex.

For more alarming details about queer rights in Azerbaijan, visit the Equaldex page on the country.

Also, since 2015, ILGA-Europe (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) has been rated the worst state (49 out of 49) in Europe for LGBTQIA+ rights protection, citing "a near total absence of legal protection" for LGBTQIA+ individuals. (View their data in this graphic.)

In a report on LGBTQ+ travel to Azerbaijan, the Human Rights Campaign writes: "There are instances of societal intolerance, discrimination, and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While there are no legal impediments to the organization of LGBT events, strong societal intolerance generally prevents these events from being organized. LGBT individuals have reported that although the law prohibits dismissal of employees for reasons related to sexual orientation, employers find other reasons to dismiss them. One of the main concerns for the local LGBT community is the perceived failure of law enforcement agencies to act on violations of LGBT individuals' rights."

And things apparently are getting worse. Just months before Imagine Dragons played in the country, the website inews wrote: "The worsening situation for LGBT people in Azerbaijan became international news as a new wave of anti-gay crackdowns began in late 2017. According to local media reports, more than 100 LGBT people, predominantly in Baku, were arrested in what Azerbaijani officials say was a campaign against prostitution. International human rights organizers, activists and lawyers have confirmed that these arrests targeted LGBT people."

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