I Want To Talk About .... The Other Faces of Hate Crime - A Project52 investigation
In a change to the usual Q&A features ran by Project52, I chose to draw on my own experiences and produce my own investigation into a subject close to my own heart.
"The Other Faces of Hate Crime"
If you asked any person on the street, most would typically answer that racism is what hate crime is. They would be correct in this, as racism is a form of hate crime, but it is not the only kind. There are hundreds of kinds of discrimination in this world, many of which fall under 'hate crime'. The most predominant after racism are disability, LGBT and sub-culture discrimination. This investigation focuses on the latter two.
In a recent survey held by Project52, the majority of replies came from individuals who were of legal age for gay or lesbian relationships in countries where it is not illegal to be gay. It is unfortunate but there are countries where even the suspicion of being gay could equal a death sentence or prison term. These individuals would also have been active in LGBT or sub-culture lifestyles prior to and post the death of Sophie Lancaster, of whom the charity 'The Sophie Lancaster Foundation' is based upon. It was helpful that the responses came from individuals who were around at this time as they would remember what life was like in the before and after, predominately in the last ten years.
For myself, as an individual who chose to dress in a manner that reflected my musical preferences, aka sub-culture; goth, rocker, mosher, emo. I remember what it was like to not be able to walk out of my own front door alone without a stranger on the street shouting 'mosher' at me. For wearing a pair of baggy jeans and a t-shirt or vest top. Hardly exposing or risqué clothing, yet it brought me ridicule for it. I consider myself very, very lucky that nothing worse ever happened to me beyond name-calling, as so many people were not so fortunate. I don't recall it ever happening when I was accompanied by somebody, perhaps that second or third person would put them off doing so for the repercussions.
Eventually I stopped wearing the baggy jeans, so as not to draw that unwanted attention and to be able to fly under the radar of local thugs. Didn't stop me wearing any other items of clothing associated with being a 'goth' or 'mosher', but I would save most of those for nights out with friends. Today my main dress is a mix of trendy, emo and geeky, but as I am in my work uniform 5 days a week, it is rare that I am in the streets of my home town in my own clothes. This, I believe has reduced the incidents that I have suffered myself in recent years.
My own experiences may seem hardly relevant to the topic at hand, but if anyone reading this has no experience of being under distress caused by others for the 'crime' of being yourself, it is important to understand what it can be like for the rest of this piece to make sense to you.
Going back to the results of the Project52 survey, a large percentage of those who did answer are based in the north-west of England, which is where I was born and am still based, and is also where Sophie Lancaster was born, raised, lived and was murdered. This means that they will have an awareness of what went on.
I know some of you who have kept on reading this far will be thinking, "who was Sophie Lancaster? why is she important?" Well, Sophie in many ways was just like me or you. Sophie liked going to the cinema, dying her hair and listening to rock/alternative music, she liked to write and would have gone on to university had she lived. Sophie would also do all she could to support her friends and loved ones. I do not wish to romanticize the image or idea of Sophie, as that would be against the wishes of The Sophie Lancaster Foundation, as while it was set up in memory of Sophie, it would detract from their main goal and turn her memory into a commodity. I will add that Sophie was also a friend of a friend whom I met myself once or twice. As time goes on, the details of our conversations do fade away, but I still remember this tiny girl with long dark hair who loved rock music.
The Sophie Lancaster Trust was set up by Sophie's mother, Sylvia Lancaster and supported by Sophie's boyfriend, Rob and closest friends, following her death in August 2007. Sophie, herself had suffered verbal abuse on several occasions due to the way she dressed and wore her hair, as she was what they called a "mosher". One evening, Sophie was on her way home after a night out with her boyfriend, Rob, when they were attacked by a small group of men for being "moshers". Rob was very badly beaten but survived, but Sophie was kicked to death simply for being herself. Those who took part in the survey by Project52 will be aware of her story, but beyond those individuals, thousands upon thousands will not know what happened or why it is important to teach others to be tolerant and understanding of those who are different to themselves.
The foundation's motto, which uses Sophie's name is "Stamping Out Prejudice, Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere". Their goal is to have the law changed through out the UK, to have sub-cultures added to the list of hate crime or discrimination, so that any attack for being of a sub-culture would carry a harsher sentence as it would do for racism. It is not hard to spot supporters of the charity as their wristbands, in black with 's.o.p.h.i.e.' printed on them in silver can be easy to spot and recognise. I myself wear mine everyday, and have even had people ask me about it, which is wonderful as raising awareness will always go a long way. Of the three groups that this piece and the survey focussed on, it is in the middle, while still quite young, but has made the biggest impact within the sub-culture community.
The Kaleidoscope Trust was founded in 2011 and was given charity status in 2012, making it a youngster in how long it has been operational, but as it has projects in other countries, it has quite a far outreach. The trust does aim to support LGBT or LGBTQ individuals in countries where it is dangerous to be so, whether that is in public or private. It is important that their goal comes true, for those who worry about immigration, think of it this way: If The Kaleidoscope Trust are successful in their end goal, the amount of people seeking immigration to the UK, USA or Australia would fall as the risk to their life would significantly reduce.
Finally, Stonewall, were founded in 1989, in order to fight a piece of UK legislation, known as section 28, which was against the 'promotion' of homosexuality in schools. Namely, to make schools teach pupils that it was wrong to be gay or bi-sexual. They are quite well known in the UK due to their campaigns and lobbying for LGBT rights. A Q&A session with a member of the Stonewall team was published recently here on the Project52 a year blog.
Those who did take part in the survey, as there were 60 of you, will recall that I asked about three charity or support groups, these were The Kaleidoscope Trust, who aim to support LGBT people worldwide, Stonewall, who focus on LGBT in the UK, and The Sophie Lancaster Foundation, who do include LGBT in the sub-cultures that they aim to help, making all three interlinked in their goals for all to be free to be who they are inside and out.
Based on the results, a whooping 85% have suffered some kind of discrimination, whether for being a member of the LGBT community, a sub-culture community or both. For over 50% of those who took part, this is a problem in recent years, but what I find even worse is that for nearly 15% of respondents it is an ongoing problem that has not changed at all in the past ten years to present day.
However, for 25% it appears that life has gotten easier for individuals, whether that is due to being out of school, where bullying can be quite high and into the workplace where there are rules in place to protect staff from discrimination, or if they have moved to more accepting areas is unclear. For those 50% that are still suffering, it is clear that the work done by Kaleidoscope, Stonewall or Sophie Lancaster foundation is far from over.
Verbal abuse is the most predominant form of discrimination, as noted by 77% of those who answered this question in the survey, as well as evident in my own experiences as mentioned earlier. The remainder appear to have suffered some kind of physical assault, such as a punch, beating or mugging, but whether this is more recent or further back in time is unclear.
As a final question, I asked the survey participants if they would step in to help if they saw a case of discrimination happening in front of them, of which I am pleased to say that 88% said yes they would try to help, most likely by reporting it to the police or by stepping in themselves.
In summary, it is clear that the UK, or even the world at large has a long way to go in becoming more accepting of peoples rights to be individuals, I only hope that it can start now, so that if I was to do this again in another ten years, all my answers would be in the past and not present day. In the meantime, I will continue to wear my s.o.p.h.i.e. band with pride.
For more information or to support the charities mentioned, please visit: http://www.sophielancasterfoundation.com/