The Blog

Thank You for the LGBT Music

In all of my musical, equality and advisory roles, music continues to be a key tool in eradicating discrimination. In all our annual 'Educate and Celebrate' school showcases, students and teachers use music extensively through LGBT anthems, music by LGBT composers and equality songs written by our young people.

Remember the pop classic 'It's Raining Men' by the Weather Girls? Did you join the campaign to get it to number 1 following a UKIP member blaming the bad weather on gay people?

This statement, however ridiculous, fused music and the LGBT community in a campaign to demand equality. Throughout the decades popular music has highlighted and influenced our attitudes towards LGBT people. Music has the quality of being both unifying and controversial.

Unifying in the sense that every Thursday night my family would sit around the TV to watch 'Top of the Pops' and then controversial when in 1982 we couldn't agree on the gender of Boy George when we saw him performing 'Do you really want to hurt me'.

The 1980s were my decade of discovery of ambiguous gender identities and orientations. I discovered Bowie, David Sylvian, Bow Wow Wow, was transfixed by Live Aid, directly affected by the teachers strike and immersed in Morrissey and Billy Bragg lyrics.

However, before my 80's political awakening, pop music had already caused controversy through the birth of 'Disco'. Dorian Lynskey writes in relation to the 1969 Stonewall riots and birth of the Gay Rights Movement ('33 Revolutions Per Minute'):

"For the early practitioners and fans of disco, the party was the protest: both a message of resistance and a better society - one where race and sexuality were no longer obstacles but reasons to celebrate."

When I became a music teacher, I took this protest into the classroom firstly because we have to study 'disco' for GCSE and secondly to use music to introduce Black History Month, Women's history month and LGBT History Month. I still use protest songs and songs of oppression to highlight LGBT, Black and Women's struggle, the Stonewall Riots and the Suffragette movement through Blues music and with tracks such as 'March of the Women' and 'Smalltown Boy'. Music has the ability to resonate with our young people in a way that politicians simply do not. More recently The XX said, "We unconditionally support the equal right to marriage regardless of sexuality" when their music was used by a Croatian anti-gay marriage organisation.

Disco continued its political message when Bunny Jones stated 'I'm Gay' in the song 'I Was Born This Way' (released 1975). She wrote the track in response to the homophobia and transphobia being suffered by her mostly 'gay' employees in the beauty industry. This was swiftly followed by the Tom Robinson Band in 1976 who sang 'Glad to be Gay' as an anthem for the Pride parade in London.

Pride will always be a protest until we have educated hearts and minds and created institutional change in all our schools and workplaces. After studying our 'hidden histories' project Year's 8's at Stoke Newington School held their own 'mini pride' by marching around their local park with banners, drums and brass band to riffs from 'Karma Chameleon' and 'In the Navy!' The reaction from the public was immense. A man in the park had tears in his eyes. He told me "I never thought I would see the day when young people would march for LGBT rights, I was in the Gay Liberation Front and on the first London pride march in 1970"

In 2014, we still see homophobia and transphobia existing in the music industry through twitter arguments. However, at the same time we see a surge of stars 'coming out' or identifying as LGBT, like Frank Ocean, RoxXxan, Mykki Blanco, Zebra Katz, Angel Haze, Naechene Valentino and QBoy. Having such visible role models is changing the attitudes of our young people; creating a 'usualising' effect where being LGBT becomes an everyday occurrence. This strategy subsequently eradicates homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

Continuing our efforts to promote a preventative approach by 'usualising', a teacher in North Carolina was suspended after showing a group of students the video for Macklemore's 'Same Love,' a song that supports same-sex marriage. The school deemed the video 'inappropriate'. In the UK the action of the school would be deemed 'inappropriate'.

In all of my musical, equality and advisory roles, music continues to be a key tool in eradicating discrimination. In all our annual 'Educate and Celebrate' school showcases, students and teachers use music extensively through LGBT anthems, music by LGBT composers and equality songs written by our young people. Turves Green Girls school released an EP of 4 LGBT songs they composed for an LGBT History month project with their singing teacher Vix from Fuzzbox. The title song 'Say it Loud' is our charity anthem for 2014. Please support by downloading the EP.

Past showcases at the Emirates Football stadium, Stoke Newington School and the Birmingham Library Theatre have featured LGBT opera singers, The London Gay Men's Chorus, The L project, cast of Rent along with numerous performances of LGBT songs such as 'Don't Stop me Now', 'Over the rainbow', 'Life on Mars', 'I am what I am', 'For today I am a boy', 'Walking on sunshine', 'Viva La Diva' and many more compositions by the students themselves. There is something very affirming when we hear the words, melodies and voices of solidarity from our young people, there have been many tears shed! Films of all of our music showcases can be seen here. The next showcase will be in the new Birmingham library on 26 February 2014 at 6.30pm.

Music will continue to move, motivate and divide us. It will infiltrate our brains, make us cry, laugh and dance and most importantly unify us on our journey to equality, with young voices on board we cannot fail.

My own musical journey has led me to The Fourth Choir, a semi-professional LGBT chamber choir of which I am proud to be a member. Join us to celebrate the last day of LGBT History Month 2014 on 28th February with songs of 'Love and Adoration' at the beautiful Old Finsbury Town Hall.

LGBT History Month is urging everyone to celebrate LGBT musicians and music during February 2014 - 'who can live without it, I ask in all honesty, what would life be?'

For information on training, resources and consultancy go to Elly Barnes at 'Making all schools, local authorities and workplaces LGBT friendly'