Empowering young people against hate crime

Ruth Peterson | October 18, 2021

“Be who you are. Be who you want to be.”

Young people stood and applauded as panellists at Bradford College’s Hate Crime Conference shared powerful messages around tolerance and respect.

Saorsa Tweedale, the Department for Work and Pensions’ National Diversity Ambassador and a guest at the conference, told a packed lecture theatre: “We all have the right to exist and respect the uniqueness of human beings and the human spirit.”

Bradford College organised the Hate Crime Conference in collaboration with the Sophie Lancaster Foundation.

Tolerance and acceptance

The charity was created by the family of Sophie Lancaster, a bright and creative young woman. Her life was cut short when she and her boyfriend were attacked by a gang of teenage boys in August 2007 – simply for looking different. The charity works to promote tolerance and acceptance for others and champions alternative people in communities.

The conference began with a screening of Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster. This is a drama documentary about Sophie’s life and tragic death, told through a series of poignant poems written by the award-winning poet Simon Armitage.

Coronation Street’s Julie Hesmondhalgh plays her mother, Sylvia Lancaster. She speaks Sylvia’s words as she remembers her daughter’s life.

“I used to call her my dark fairy” said Sylvia in the film. She remembered Sophie as a vegetarian from a young age with a strong will and views on animal rights and green issues.

The beat of a different drum

Sophie Lancaster shot. Image credit BBC Two
From Black Roses. Image Credit: BBC Two

“Why ask me to toe the line? I can’t,” said Sophie, played by Julie’s soap co-star Rachel Austin, as she recalled her youth when she marched “to the beat of a different drum.”

Sylvia joined the conference remotely as special guest. She took questions from the audience about her daughter and the aftermath of her death. Sylvia said: “None of those boys (who caused her death) will ever be as brave as she was.

“She had the right to be who she was, and the right to show who she was.”

Saorsa, Inspector Kevin Taylor from West Yorkshire Police, Charles Dacres from Bradford Hate Crime Alliance, anti-racism organiser Samayya Afzal, Paul Meszaros from Hope Not Hate and community coordinator Rifaaqat Ali were all panellists who sat before the audience in the lecture theatre.

Together we can tackle discrimination

Saorsa described how she, as a trans woman, had faced abuse from members of the public. Like Sophie, she has also faced abuse for being a member of the Gothic community. She said: “Why should we be subjected to violence and abuse because we’re different?”

Inspector Taylor said: “If somebody is targeted because of their race, because of their faith, because of a disability, because of their sexual orientation, because they are transgender, that is a hate crime.”

One young man in the audience described how he had faced discrimination from classmates when he was younger after having an operation on his legs. He said: “Because of this, they considered me weak.”

Reporting hate crime

Charles said he encouraged people to report hate crime. He then added: “Every single one of us here is a champion. Every single one of us has a responsibility. Every one of us has a circle of friends and can use them to share messages.”

The deaths of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa have shocked the nation, creating a major discussion about the safety of women. Samayya added women experiencing domestic violence suffer 37 attacks on average before they report it to police.

Sylvia ended the conference by telling the group: “Be kind to one another. Be kind to each other. As an individual, treat other people as you would want to be treated.”

The college’s Personal Development Team developed the event. It formed part of the monthly series of events and activities available to all students.

How we support people affected by hate crime

The October Hate Crime Awareness Week was a week of actions to encourage local authorities, key partners and communities to work together to tackle local hate crime.

Bradford College is a proud member of the Bradford Hate Crime Alliance (BHCA). The purpose of BHCA is to work jointly with strategic and operational partners to eliminate hate crime within Bradford Metropolitan District Council area.

Bradford College is a Hate Incident Reporting Centre, which offers support to victims to report and record incidents using online reporting systems.

Reporting a Hate Crime

If you feel you are a victim of any hate incident there are a number of ways to do this. Please visit https://www.bradfordcollege.ac.uk/help/knowledge-base/hate-crime-reporting/

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