|Being different takes courage - but remember, this too shall pass.|
Twelve-year-old Tempest Smith had been bullied constantly by her classmates since elementary school for her affection for Goth dress and her interest in Wicca. These 'Christian' kids often taunted her with hymns. After Tempest hung herself in her bedroom, her journal was discovered and gave some insight into how she had been treated by the other children at her school.
Many of her fellow students were horrified by what they had driven her to and told counsellors they felt responsible. Cards and placards left by students at her funeral made statements like, “I’m sorry if I said mean things to you. I didn’t mean them. It was the easiest way for me to hide what was wrong with me.”
It is well-known that children and young adults can often be cruel to each other, and if one chooses to dress differently or take an interest in something different or 'uncool', it can often make that person into a target for abuse. At the time, the bullied child will be told repeatedly by adults and friends that they are bullied out of jealousy or insecurity - unfortunately at the time it's almost impossible for the 'victim' to believe. But, as Tempest's classmates' tributes reveal - it's true. Sadly it takes a tragedy like Tempest's suicide to show this truth to other victims of bullying.
A case which attracted a lot of media attention back in 2001 was the suicide of Nicola Raphael, a 15 year old who endured constant bullying because she dressed in black. In many ways the suicide - by overdosing on painkillers - could be read as a grim warning of the strength of hatred that was to lead to Sophie Lancaster’s death.
Nicola had endured months of vicious bullying by a gang of 30 teenagers, known as "the Neds" (a Scottish term for what we in the UK call 'chavs' and the Australians call 'bogans', a mainstream subculture whose members often express vitriolic hatred towards Goths, emos and other alternatives). They threw stones, cans, water bombs and food at Nicola simply because she dressed differently to them.
"She dressed as a goth, wore dark eye make-up and a long black coat, but was a neat, clean girl," Rona, Nicola's mother, told the press. "Her shoulders were bruised after stones were thrown at her. I went to see her headmaster, but nothing changed. The bullies called her names like 'zombie', 'walking dead' and 'witch'. I offered to take her out of school, but she refused to let them win. She seemed to be resolute about coping."
These quotes from an article in the Scottish Sunday Herald cover the incident and reveal the extent of harassment teen Goths in Glasgow were undergoing at the time: ""They think we worship Satan, just because of the way we dress," says Gill Cairns, a 16-year-old who lives in Clarkston in Glasgow. The first thing you notice about Gill is her lips, smeared in dark purple lipstick. She has a stud in her tongue to match the one in her nose and is wearing a black hooded top over a pair of baggy jeans.
""Everyone seems to think we're wrong or evil, but we all do really well in our classes. We're the ones that work in school. None of us wants to fight, but we all feel intimidated all the time. We just keep ourselves to ourselves. We never say, 'Look at you, you're wearing trainers.'"
"Gill is standing outside the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow's Royal Exchange Square with around 150 friends and acquaintances, all dressed in punk, goth or "mosher" style. Black is the colour of choice. Feelings at their favoured meeting place are running high today; many of those present have just returned from the funeral of their friend, Nicola Raphael, who was buried in her home town of Kirkintilloch after taking her own life. She was 15.
Scores of teenagers joined the funeral cortege; some wearing black make-up and hooded tops, others in dark trenchcoats and with long chains dangling from their waists. Heavy clouds raced over the Campsie Hills as the youths followed the hearse on its painful way the few hundred yards from St Columba's Parish Church to the cemetery. With the coffin was a message from the girl's mother, Rona, which read: "To my wonderful daughter Nicola. Give 'em hell!!!!"
"Like her school friends, and in common with hundreds of teenagers all over Scotland, Nicola liked to wear clothes and make-up that made her stand out from the crowd. Nicola's friends say she was bullied at school and in the street, simply because of the clothes she wore. Just two days before her death she and her school friends had to be escorted from their school, Lenzie Academy, because of intimidation from other youths.
""There were neds bringing stones in and throwing them at us because of the way we dress," said one 15-year-old school friend. "That's when it got really bad."
"Another girl, also 15, added: "We went to the head teacher [at Lenzie Academy], and he basically said it was our own fault because of the way we dressed. We went to him again and his solution was just to stay away from them. They weren't reprimanded at all.""
These terrible incidents are extreme tragedies; Gothlings, if you are being bullied, please remember that you can always get help. Talk to a responsible adult. If your teachers can't or won't do anything, go to the police. It may seem over the top but you do not have to suffer through this. Don't ever hurt yourself - as Tempest's classmate admitted, the problem is with THEM, not with you.
If you are feeling depressed or overwhelmed, there are always people you can talk to. In the UK, you can talk to Samaritans on the phone here: 08457 90 90 90 in the UK and Northern Ireland or 1850 60 90 90 in the Republic of Ireland or e-mail them via their webpage here: http://www.samaritans.org/talk_to_someone.aspx In the USA call 1-800-273-TALK