President Obama is the latest figure of note to record a video for the “It Gets Better” Project, columnist Dan Savage’s campaign to show LGBT youth that there’s a better life beyond the anti-gay bullying they m
My hope is that participation in this much-needed movement continues well past the current press cycle. It’s a serious conversation that has the power to change lives for the better, even if the discussion has sadly arrived decades too late to help kids bullied in previous generations see that their futures could be brighter.
Tagged as gay as early as the second grade (I was much too young to grasp the pejorative use, only that the dictionary stated the word meant “happy” and “full of fun”), I endured years of verbal abuse. Such bullying reached its worst point during high school, a time when I was in no way ready to self-identify as gay. During those years, I had a close circle of friends who loved and respected me, and also won the admiration of teachers for my academic commitment and creative pursuits, but even with such support in place, I kept the taunts, which often cut quite deep, totally to myself.
Somehow I managed to make it through, a perseverance I credit partly to the power of music. No less than Wilson Philips’ “Hold On” helped me through a particularly rough patch, though one lyric, “You’ve got no one to blame for your unhappiness / You got yourself into your own mess,” troubled me, as I so did not agree.
Still, I did hold on and it did get better. I went away to college and the distance helped me come to terms with being gay. It wasn’t always easy, and still took more time than I wanted, but I eventually I was able to grasp the idea of a different, even more beautiful future for me.
Thinking of all of the above, I was reminded of En Vogue‘s “Free Your Mind.” The anti-prejudice song stood out upon its release in 1992 because it veered from a positive, “up with people” vibe and was delivered by female voices. Written by En Vogue’s producers Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy, “Free Your Mind” refuses to mince words to get its message across, addressing haters and bullies head-on. A pretty unique perspective, even now.
Serving up a strong retort to the close-minded crowd, the Oakland, California quartet scored one of their most memorable hits. “Free Your Mind” peaked at #23 on the R&B chart this week in October 1992 (ironically, the rock-leaning track was met with some resistance by radio programmers), but En Vogue went on to reach #8 on the friendlier Hot 100 just a week later.
Directed by Mark Romanek, the music video for “Free Your Mind” was fittingly fierce in its visual presentation, with each of the En Vogue ladies marching down the runway to proclaim their piece. Watch and listen, and I’ll bet you can still draw some strength from the song today. The message is just as necessary today. Hear here:
After some years as a trio and several lineup changes, all four original members of En Vogue are once again back together. Just last night, the group performed their first concert in the UK in 18 years (back when “Free Your Mind” was a hit, actually).