When Ashley Prichard ran for homecoming queen at Marshall University this fall, she knew there would be negative reactions to her campaign. She lived with bullying her whole life. From a young age, when peers would tell her she was a Satanist on the playground, to last summer, when two men pointed a gun at her and told her it was “freak hunting season.”
In fact, it was this bullying that encouraged Prichard to run for homecoming queen. “I wanted to prove a point, that differences don’t necessarily determine our place in society and if you work hard you can be anything,” said Prichard.
Prichard identifies as goth, which means she dresses differently from most people living in West Virginia, and these differences have caused her a lifetime of taunting. She shares some of these experiences on YouTube, where she is known as lonelygothgirl2.
In her YouTube series “Goth In Public,” she chronicles what it’s like to identify as a goth growing up in the “Bible Belt;” a nickname for the regions in south-eastern and south-central United States where being a conservative evangelical Protestant is a significant part of the culture. While some of her stories are positive and feature children telling her how beautiful she is, many are disturbing. In one video, she talks about a man who started performing Hail Marys after noticing her. In several videos, she discusses people who follow her as she runs errands just to yell insults at her.
Perhaps what is most frightening is that this is not an isolated incident. “We (fellow goths) can sit there and share incidences for hours. It’s almost universal, and it’s scary,” said Prichard.
In November, Canadian man Calvin Nicol was physically attacked by a group of men who mocked his heavily-modified appearance during the assault. In 2007, Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend were attacked in England by a group of teenage boys who often insulted their appearance. Lancaster went into a coma and died a few days later. In 1997, Brian Deneke was killed in a deliberate hit and run in Texas. Deneke’s death is often referred to as an example of someone who was killed for being “punk.”
After Lancaster’s death, The Sophie Lancaster Foundation was established; an organization dedicated to spreading awareness about assaults against members of alternative subcultures as well as campaigning to have the United Kingdom hate crime laws extended to individuals who identify with those subcultures.
Kate Conboy-Greenwood, The Sophie Lancaster Foundation campaign manager said, “Hate crime is being extended to cover alternatives (in the UK), which we are lobbying for, as we feel it is any individual’s right to express who they are. Yes, they choose the clothes and music, but it is about who they are.”
Conboy-Greenwood explained that by extending hate crime laws to members of alternative subcultures, the assaults are taken more seriously, and the victims have more support.
Listening to Prichard, it’s obvious that the issue of assaults targeting Goths needs to be publicized in the United States as well. “I don’t want other kids to have to go through that,” said Prichard. “More often than not, law enforcement doesn’t take these attacks seriously, leading to more violence.”
While campaigning for homecoming queen, Prichard had her posters ripped down, urinated on and written over. “It doesn’t really matter,” said Prichard about the vandalism. “I touched Marshall students. I made a point, and the amount of positivity shows how much times are changing.”
Prichard used her campaign not only as a chance to debunk the negative stereotypes that surround Goths and subcultures, but as an opportunity to raise money for The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis intervention to LGTBQ youths.
Prichard may not have been crowned homecoming queen, but she’s not bitter about it. Instead. she’s happy that she had a chance to stand up for herself and what she believes in. “Based upon what’s been told to me, consistently ,it seems that many people see alternative people as immature, lowlifes, too free spirited, the products of bad parenting, unwilling to contribute to society or jobless slobs living in their mom’s basement,” Prichard said, but she’s not letting the misconceptions control her life. In a few months she will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and plans on getting her PHD.
“People may harm you, but it’s because they’re afraid,” said Prichard. “Afraid of what a black-clad kid stands for. Challenge the status quo.”
Image via Bryan Ledgard.