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New Jersey lawyer focusing on special education law and employment law

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Remembering Sophie Lancaster

Goth is a subculture in which people often wear black clothing and listen to a variety of music, including punk rock, heavy metal, gothic rock, and alternative music. Some goth aficionados may also have multiple facial and body piercings, plus a tattoo here and there. Like many of us, goth folks enjoy reading science fiction; others like watching horror films. Names like H.P. Lovecraft, Anne Rice, Wilkie Collins, and Jane Austen, are passed on as recommended authors among the goth community.

Goth people might look odd to the average person, but they are intelligent, incredibly artistic, expressive, intuitive, and very open-minded. I know this personally — I’ve met a few myself — and they are not strange, or freaks, or zombies.

Fellow blogger, Siouxsie Law, a lawyer who makes goth her lifestyle, recently blogged about Sophie Lancaster, a 20 year goth female who, along with her goth boyfriend, was brutally attacked in 2007 by a group of teenagers in the United Kingdom. Sophie and her boyfriend were viciously punched and kicked simply because they looked “different.” Sophie subsequently died in the hospital as a result of her extensive injuries; her boyfriend barely survived the attack. Below is a haunting rendition of what happened on that terrible night:

(For those who are hearing impaired, click here to read Portishead’s lyrics.)

Since early 2010, Sophie’s mother has been hard at work running the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, a not-for-profit charity dedicated to promoting respect and understanding of subcultures. The Foundation’s acronym is S.O.P.H.I.E.: Stamp Out Prejudice, Hatred (and) Intolerance Everywhere.

I ran a quick search to see if there were any recent attacks against goth people in the United States. The only case I came across was a 2006 case in California (see James Howard’s powerful statement to the Court).

It seems that physical assaults against goth youngsters are far less common than bullycides. Recent cases involving goth youngsters who committed suicide include Brandon Bitner, whom I discussed in an earlier blog article, and Tempest Smith. Both had apparently been bullied in school because of the way they looked.

(A sad, but interesting aside: Nicola Raphael was a 15 year old in Scotland who was bullied because she enjoyed the goth lifestyle and wore black clothes and make-up. The bullies called Nicola a “freak” and “zombie.” In 2001, Nicola committed suicide. Nicola’s heart was frozen and three years later, doctors defrosted her heart and transplanted it into a three year old child.)

Hateful websites such as “God Hates Goths” do nothing to promote diversity and tolerance. Statements such as “The only good goth is a dead goth” or “Goths are the lowest form of human trash that has ever crawled upon this good clean earth” clearly constitute as hateful speech. That website has a distorted view of the goth subculture and makes false accusations against the people who are members of the goth subculture. For a better understanding of goth people, read what Goth Mom has to say.

The goth subculture has a rich and fascinating history. Wikipedia even has entries on goth subculture and goth fashion. Although the goth subculture emerged in the early 1980s post-punk rock music era, goth is also influenced by gothic fiction, penned by such famous authors like Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, and Bram Stoker.

I think that when students are assigned to read famous stories like “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” The Pit and the Pendulum,” and even “Jane Eyre,” school teachers should discuss how these works may have influenced the modern goth subculture. (A 21st century, New York Times Bestseller work of fiction like “Pride, Prejudice and Zombies” might work too.)

Similarly, music teachers should be encouraged to discuss various rock music genres and perhaps teach students to perform accessible songs performed by bands that are famous among the goth community, such as Siouxsie and The Banshees and Peter Murphy.

There are many creative teaching strategies that teachers and school personnel can employ to promote diversity and tolerance. These strategies can also be used to promote peer acceptance of students who are drawn to the goth subculture. We must remember the Sophie Lancaster tragedy and work together to stop the hate. Teachers and school administrators have as much responsibility as parents to teach youngsters that it’s okay to be different and express yourself in different ways.

I’ll close this article with this live performance of a song from 1990 from a famous goth band: The Cure’s “Pictures of You.” (Note: For those who are hearing impaired, click here to read the lyrics.)

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    There are 2 comments. Add Yours.

    Siouxsie Law

    Amazing post. I just read that Sophie would have been 24-years-old today. So tragic.

    Great videos. Well-written and researched. That God Hate Goths site is so weird.

    Your bullying posts are really great too, and unfortunately, timely.

      Matthew Stoloff

      24 years old — still so young. To celebrate Sophie’s birthday, Sophie’s Mom is asking everyone to make some noise tonight.

      In the meanwhile, Robert has become quite an artist. You can view 14 of his works here.

      Thank you for your kind words, Siouxsie. I hope that bloggers like you and me can help change the way people think about goth.