Goths are scary. Goths are mentally ill; homicidal; dangerous and evil.
These are just some of the stereotypes that many people believe - stereotypes which they use to judge someone just by looking at their clothes. But it wasn't a weird, dangerous, homicidal Goth gang who hit the headlines for beating to death an innocent young woman.
Goths are losers. Goths are weird. Goths are freaks.
Just because someone doesn't dress or behave in a way that fits your world view; just because they don't choose to conform to what you feel is 'acceptable', 'trendy' or 'cool' - are these reasons to batter a young woman into a coma and cause her death?
If you don't read the papers much or have only recently become interested in the Goth scene, you may think that I am exaggerating or scaremongering. But this was exactly what happened in Bacup, England in August 2007, when Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend Robert Maltby were set upon by violent thugs just because they were dressed in Goth clothing.
The yobs rained kicks and punches on Robert, jumping and standing on his head whilst laughing and egging each other on. Sophie was murdered as she tried to shield him from the vicious attack, using her body to protect his as he lay sprawled on the ground, and shouting at them to leave him alone.
But two of the attackers turned on her, despite the fact she was just a slender, 20-year-old girl, kicking her in the head and then stamping on her face when she was helpless. Paramedics found the couple unconscious, and were unable to tell whether they were male or female due to the horrific extent of their injuries.
Robert recovered from his coma within thirteen days. Sophie died after a fortnight unconscious in hospital.
After this disgusting and senseless attack, which cost a vivacious woman her life, the alternative and Gothic community put forward a petition to change the hate crime law, expanding the definition of a 'hate crime' to protect those who are affiliated with subcultures. The petition recieved more than 5,000 signatures, but the law was not changed.
Sophie's mother, Sylvia Lancaster, began a campaign in her daughter's memory to promote tolerance and acceptance towards alternative subcultures, in order to reduce the risk of such a crime happening again. The S.O.P.H.I.E. campaign (Stamp Out Prejudice, Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere) has received widespread support for its cause.
At Whitby, the spiritual home of Goth, a memorial bench was unveiled in Sophie's memory. The Bloodstock Festival has re-named their third stage, previously the Lava Stage, as the Sophie Lancaster Stage. Make-up brand Illamasqua are staunch supporters of the S.O.P.H.I.E. campaign; their medium pencil in black has been renamed the S.O.P.H.I.E. pencil, and £3 from every purchase will go to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. You can also buy S.O.P.H.I.E. wristbands and donate to the Foundation from their site.
Many bands have played at tribute and memorial concerts in Sophie's memory, but perhaps none more famous than The Damned. On what would have been Sophie's 22nd birthday, a memorial concert was perfomed at Heywood Civic Centre. The Damned were the headliners - the original line-up, featuring Captain Sensible. Just after midnight The Damned led a noisy celebration to bring home the message that no-one was going to stay silent over what happened to Sophie. VNV Nation have dedicated the song 'Illusion' to Sophie. Ronan Harris contacted the family personally to offer his condolences. A number of Gothic gigs and club nights across the UK and Ireland dedicated a night to Sophie in October and November 2007, including the Whitby Gothic Weekend.
The "Sophie Award" has been established as an ongoing prize for innovative and experimental filmmaking at Bacup Film Festival. Metal band Beholder penned an offical song for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, entitled Never Take Us Down, and the bands Screams of Cold Winter and Cosmic Slop both wrote songs in Sophie's memory.
As well as campaigning to change the hate crime law to include the protection of Goths and members of other alternative subcultures, the Sophie Lancaster Foundation wants to educate young people on tolerance, helping to create a society where everyone can be free to be themselves.
Their website states, "We believe that many attacks on subcultures are born out of ignorance and a lack of understanding. Therefore, education is key. Sylvia Lancaster is a professional youth worker who understands what makes young people tick. We have developed a groundbreaking workshop that will be taken into schools to educate young people about different subcultures creating an understanding that doesn’t currently exist.
"The vision for the charity is to take the workshops not only nationwide, but to have them incorporated into the national curriculum. The ‘vision’ is already being supported by a number of education authorities, which understand that children need interesting, thought provoking and real material to help them understand and appreciate something new and ‘a bit different’. Sylvia is also working with local police forces to help them understand and appreciate subcultures in their communities."
In line with this vision, this month the Foundation has launched a pilot scheme for a game teaching tolerance to teenagers, to be used in schools to promote awareness of and acceptance towards common ethnic, religious and social groups and subcultures, which are represented by 30 cards.
Also, Illamasqua commissioned a short video animation entitled Sophie: A Dark Angel, which ran for a week on MTV in November 2009. The video features a song from the band Portishead, and is described as 'a beautifully haunting rendition of Sophie's story'.
Please show your support for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation - visit their website to find out what you can do to help this campaign, and let's make sure that people can feel safe walking the streets, regardless of how they look or dress.