Who are you? Deep inside your soul? Naturally, I don’t give a monkey’s, but Greater Manchester Police service has taken an interest. It will be the first force in Britain to treat offences against “goths, emos, punks and metallers” as hate crimes, adding these subcultures to a list that acknowledges discrimination based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity.
This new approach was motivated by the 2007 murder of 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster, kicked to death “because” she dressed as a goth. Sophie’s mother, who has campaigned for the change of policy, called it a “validation of the work we have undertaken”, and she deserves that validation. It should be said out loud, as many times as it takes: it is not acceptable to attack someone because of who they are. Or, more accurately, who the perpetrator has decided they are.
Those who think hate-crime legislation unnecessary will point out that murder is already unacceptable, whatever the motivation. This is true. It’s also true that Sophie Lancaster’s murder and other such crimes are different. The difference is one of attitude not behaviour – a distinct and depressingly moronic attitude – and our courts aren’t equipped to judge attitude. Hate-crime legislation is useful as an acknowledgement that it is wrong, but can’t do much to change it.
Don’t worry that GMP’s ever-expanding list of potential hate victims will conjure into existence hitherto unknown crimes. Unfortunately, hate crime is very real. Worry, instead, that this new definition is distracting, not helpful, because it empowers busybodies to continue patrolling the boundaries of identity. It’s an open invitation to debate the difference between the people we can’t help being – can you help liking heavy metal music? Can you help walking “gay”? – and the people we could help being if only we had the decency to try. Surely the point is, you don’t have to try. I assert my right to wave my freak flag to the beat of my own drum like the special snowflake I am etc. etc. without anybody beating me up for it. Who cares what form that takes?
Equality is not a competition to see who’s got the longest form with the most tick boxes on it. The purpose of equality legislation is not to detail the superficial traits that separate us, it’s to assert the fundamental rights we have in common. It’s commendable that Manchester Police force wants to uphold these rights for everybody, it’s just a shame it’s allowed itself to be dragged into the fools’ game of defining who “everybody” is. The clue is in the question.