Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Goths and Discrimination - Leading to Death

I am grateful to Alterphobia for his/her comment regarding the case of Sophie Lancaster which I am ashamed to say I entirely missed being reported last August. I suppose it is because I am an electronic Goth who sits at his PC late into the night rather than out and about talking to people. Sometimes I feel very connected with what is happening as a result, but in this case feel really embarrassed about this gap in my knowledge, especially as it was so much more serious, not to spout a truism: being refused access to a bus is bad, but death is far worse. You can read about the murder of Sophie Lancaster in many places over the internet. To summarise, she was 20 years old when she and her boyfriend Robert Maltby (21) were attacked in Rossendale in Lancashire (which borders on Yorkshire where last week's less grave incident occurred) while walking home across a park early on the morning of 11th August 2007. She died later from head injuries; Maltby went into a coma from which he has subsequently recovered.

The police and the victim's family feel the couple were attacked for being Goths. Yet, Sophie's mother notes that there are violent attacks in the area anyway, as there are in the bulk of British towns these days. Five boys between 15 and 17 have been arrested for the murder and face trial this March. So far we have not heard if they targeted the couple because they were Goths or simply because they happened to be passing by at a time when the boys decided to attack people. We should know more following the case. It may also be that small-town police are often a bit clueless and light on the fact that this couple were a bit 'different' as an explanation when in fact they may have equally been killed if they were chavs. In my town people of all kinds have been stabbed or kicked to death even; a lot of violence in the UK is mindless. However, we do know that crime against people from particular cultures is common across the UK. Gays and people from ethnic minorities have been attacked just for who they are; this has even gone to the extent of bombings as at the Admiral Duncan pub bombing and the Brick Lane pub bombing in 1999. Goths like people from ethnic minorities stick out especially in small towns and anyone who looks different is likely to be discriminated against and now easy targets suffer violence as well as verbal abuse. Being in a sub-group, as the law now recognises for racially-motivated crimes, increases your chances of being attacked, that appears certain.

The Lancaster case differs a bit from the Graves/Maltby case of last week. In terms of being banned from the bus, the motive was as much of them being sexual fetishists in domination and submission who happen to be Goths as being Goths per se. However, to discriminate against fetishists is along the same path, i.e. to discriminate against someone because of how they dress and the sub-culture that they identify themselves. Interestingly this has provoked me to think again about how I view women who veil their faces. I have worked with quite a few in my career and there are practical difficulties in terms of identification especially in this age when every business and I guess universities and colleges do too, uses identity cards. In addition, there is also a sense that Muslim women face family pressure to dress in a particular way, that they themselves may choose not to do. In addition, I do think education and religion should be kept separately. However, I am increasingly feeling that we should be tolerant of how people dress. There are some health and safety grounds and in some circumstances you would ask a Goth to remove their long coats or body piercings in the same way as you might ask a religious person to change their dress or remove insignia. However, these cases are few.

The murder of any person, especially a young one, is terrible. Goths though are literate, caring and intelligent and the reaction to this particular case has been widespread across the World, featuring a number of concerts in the UK, USA and Australia, some even covered on television. Her family are gathering funds to provide a memorial against hate crime. Importantly it has led to discussion of crimes against sub-cultures and a Number 10 petition to widen the definition of 'hate crime', to include crimes committed against a person or persons, on the basis of their appearance or subcultural interests'. This will not eliminate such attacks over night. However, it should strengthen the position of people from the Gothic community and others like bikers and ravers when people attack them or discriminate against them in any way. I do not think it will eliminate violence against Goths and I certainly think there are chavs who exploit the passive nature of Goths to taunt and assault them. However, I think that by developing protection for sub-cultures many other forms of discriminatory behaviour (to eliminate discriminatory attitudes is a lot longer and tougher process) will be choked off.

The online petition is at: http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/goth-hatecrimes/ You have to be a British citizen (or resident) in order to sign up. The deadline is 28th March 2008. I urge you to sign up and get your friends and relatives to do so too. There are currently 2,521 signatures, we all need to see more there. Whilst I wish that Sophie Lancaster was still alive, the least we can do is take steps will make sure her death was not in vain.