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April 18, 2012

Icon‘It Gets Better’ – the message for a new generation

Fi Milone recording vocals (Photograph by Katie Lamb)

Over the years, music has frequently been used as a way to highlight good causes and to support charitable efforts.  From the star-studded spectacle of Band Aid to the numerous singles released for Comic Relief, music has played its part.

Personally, I’ve come to have mixed views about this practise.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with supporting charities and I definitely love music, in all its many genres and styles.

However, I had reached a stage where I had begun to feel a little apathy towards the infamous ‘charity single’.  I mean, there are only so many times you can watch ‘JLS In Want Of Direction’ (or whatever the ‘current’ boy-band happens to be called) swaying and “oooing” to a heart-wrenching melody whilst a black and white VT of the cause they espouse plays on an oversized screen behind them.

I felt bad about myself for taking holding this cynical opinion, but nevertheless, there it was.  Then along came a charity single which completely changed my mind. A charity single supporting a cause so close to my heart that I could have whooped for joy when I heard about its imminent release. A charity single that, in my opinion, was long overdue.

The L Project

The L Project, spearheaded by Georgey Payne and Fi Milone, is an organisation which, in its own words, aims to help “anyone who has suffered or is suffering from any form of bullying, particularly that which is anti-LGBT.”

Its new charity single, It Does Get Better, released in February 2012, is arguably doing an amazing job of achieving just that. Harnessing the musical talents of an array of talented artists, including the legendary Horse, It Does Get Better sends a message of hope and strength to all those who are being bullied because of their sexual orientation, but particularly young people.

The single itself was in fact inspired by a 15 year old friend of Georgey Payne’s, who was suffering at the hands of homophobic peers. So what makes this particular charity single stand out?  Why is this cause so close to my heart? Because I am a teacher in a comprehensive secondary school, and I see and hear first hand, every day, how deeply homophobic views and behaviour are still rooted in our society.

“That’s so gay”

We all remember being a teenager: the awkwardness; the lack of certainty; the constant nagging belief that, for whatever reason, you’re not quite as ‘perfect’ as you should be.

As a teacher, I routinely work with arguably the most insecure group of people in our society. And that’s true even if they’re heterosexual. Add the possibility that a student might be bisexual, homosexual or transgender into the mix and all of a sudden those fears and worries escalate exponentially.

Put another way, statistically, an LGBT teenager is three times more likely to commit suicide than a straight teen.

A simple stroll down a school corridor or a meander around the playground will bring with it the unmistakable cries of “That’s so gay!” or “You’re such a gay!” from a wide variety of students – even the ‘nice’ ones.

So long has the word ‘gay’ been synonymous with ‘bad’ amongst young people that most of them don’t even consider its impact anymore. On the odd occasion, I’ve even heard it from other members of staff.  That’s right – staff; the people who are moulding our children and being entrusted with the responsibility of not just their academic but also their moral education.

Educating the educators

Our centres of education need education themselves – not just students but teachers and support staff too. Quite rightly, in our increasingly multicultural society, the recognition of racism and how to deal with it has long been a staple of PDC (Personal Development and Citizenship) lessons and of teacher training days. Now the same needs to happen for homophobia.

Too many schools (my own included) are too scared to deal with this issue, for fear of a backlash from parents or simply because they literally have no idea where to begin.

There are of course many success stories: Elly Barnes, a music teacher at Stoke Newington School, recently gained a very well deserved place at the top of The Independent’s Pink List, after her pivotal role in the successful implementation of a programme of LGBT education at her school.

Diversity Role Models, lead by the inspirational Suran Dickson, herself a former teacher, are doing amazing work in schools educating both teachers and students about LGBT lifestyles. Their theory? That knowledge leads to understanding which in turn leads to empathy and co-operation.  I couldn’t agree more.

We need more of this kind of education in our schools. Every young person has the right to feel safe, happy and important, particularly as they run the gauntlet of their teenage years.

Both Diversity Role Models and Stonewall UK will directly benefit from the money raised by It Does Get Better, which in turn will help these organisations to continue the work that they do.

To my mind, this isn’t just another charity single; this is a chance to reach out to some of the most vulnerable members of our society and to reassure them that although, yes, they are different, so is everyone else and that, ultimately, that’s ok.

It does get better, it will get better, and long may it continue to do so.

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Sue Curley

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