Should we be judged for the way we dress?

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“How do you spot a Goth?” the joke starts.

“They’ll swear they’re not a Goth,” is the punchline.

The logic of the witch dunking trials applied: You were damned if you were and damned if you weren’t (and probably a fan of The Damned either way).

A lot of people distance themselves from the label of ‘Goth’.

The Goth scene emerged from the artsy side of post-punk in the 80s, when groups used to dress up in defining features such as big, backcombed hair, heavy eyeliner and lots of black clothing.

This is what is now known as the trad Goth, it was an easy cultural identifier.

But over time the style changed, so that new sub-genres of Goth emerged, such as Cybergoth, Industrial Goth, Nu Goth.

The list goes on and on, so the distinctions between them became so blurred to the untrained eye, that people even have difficulty identifying what is Punk, Goth or Emo.

When something is new or people don’t understand it, the first reaction is often to fear it and this could spark negative reactions.

I personally have been on the receiving end of subculture hate.

Only recently I was confronted by a group of teenage boys in tracksuits hell-bent on causing trouble, shouting things like “You look dead!” and “It’s not Halloween yet” at me.

In cases like this it’s easy to just ignore them and walk away without even batting an eyelid, I have become so accustomed to attitudes like this.

But what would happen if they intended to cause physical harm?

In 2007, a boy called Robert Maltby was brutally assaulted for his Goth fashion choices.

His Goth girlfriend Sophie Lancaster, begged the attackers to stop so they turned on her.

Rob managed to recover, but Sophie died from her injuries.

The Sophie Lancaster Foundation‘ was set up to raise awareness of subculture abuse.

This caused some police forces to take action, recognising the issues as hate crimes.

Laws in England currently have five categories for hate crimes: disability, gender identity, race, religion and sexual orientation.

However, regional forces are allowed to add their own as they see fit.

Subculture abuse was accepted as a hate crime by up to nine police forces in the previous years since the Sophie Lancaster Foundation was set up.

Kate Conboy, Partnership and Development Manager for The Sophie Lancaster Foundation said: “We know that the prejudice faced by people who are alternative is still a huge issue for many, especially young people in school and small communities.”

“We have worked hard for 10 years almost to raise awareness and have a far reach which has been heard by many professionals who can influence change.

“Sylvia Lancaster was awarded an OBE for her work in ‘Community Cohesion – especially in reduction of hate crime’ and she has been an advisor to the government for over 6 years now.

“We feel that it is all about education.

“We work in schools, train primary and secondary teachers, youth workers and the police.

“Raising awareness and challenging prejudice or stereotyping has been an important part of our work and our supporters also do the same.

“We regularly hear from people who say things have gotten better and they feel more accepted.”

If the police are beginning to view Goths and other alternative cultures as victims rather than perpetrators then that can only be a positive step.

Aside from a couple of Whitby weekenders a year, Goths seldom gather in large enough numbers to defend themselves, making them an easy target.

However, the decision to equate subculture with sexual orientation, colour, or religion has provoked some criticism over what is essentially a fashion choice.

People often say, “Why can’t you just change the way you look?”

It’s the simplest solution to the problem of harassment that faces anyone in the Goth subculture.

Imagine spending years being subjected to abuse from complete strangers.

Imagine getting used to the anxiety of using public transport, walking past a busy pub, or even just going to town.

But, is changing your appearance the best defence?

Should we accept that the fault is our own for how we look?

That if we were more like everyone else – like the people who think it’s appropriate to threaten and mock us for not being like them, then we would be more accepted?

As you can imagine, the temptation hasn’t quite seized me.

I believe the debate can be brought down to a simple concept: Is this person in danger because of how they appear?

If so, it’s a motivated attack and should be considered a hate crime.

However, there is still not enough awareness because problems are still occurring.

19-year-old student Eric Vincent Knebel has been into the Goth lifestyle for around four years.

He said: “In the last two years I received a lot of hate and intolerance from people who say things like I must be a drug addict.”

“It happens a lot in the school where I am now, in some cases it really affected my grade in specific subjects.

“Even teachers don’t care about subcultures and don’t do anything to stop abuse.

“They just say ‘Then don’t style yourself like that’, but I’m never going to change the way I dress.

“After a certain amount of time you get used to the looks and bad comments and begin to ignore it.

In more accepting, modern times where racism, homophobia and other forms of hate are looked at with disgust, all forms of hate should be on the same level of severity.

From Emo kids to Metalheads, people should be free to express individuality without fear.

Hopefully, in the future we see more police forces taking action to end the hate crimes, I hope for a brighter future for the Goth subculture (excluding the clothing of course!).