Current Affairs

LGBTQ+ Society Zoom event targeted in homophobic and racist attack

Oxford University LGBTQ+ Society has issued a statement after a number of individuals “targeted” their Zoom event focusing on the experiences of LGBTQ+ people of colour in an attempt to “sabotage and silence panellists”.

The event, titled ‘LGBTQ+ History and Lived Experiences in the Caribbean’, featured three external panellists, one of whom was giving a presentation on the topic of ‘Britain’s role in criminalising homosexuality around the world with focus on the Commonwealth Caribbean’ when a number of “homophobic and racist attendants” hijacked the Zoom call.

The attackers filled the Zoom chat with homophobic and racist slurs, and wrote a racist slur across the screen while one of the panellists was sharing their screen for a presentation. The individuals appeared on screen, wearing Guy Fawkes masks – comonly worn by anonymous internet protesters, most prominently by the ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous – and played racist songs over the speakers.

In a statement posted on Facebook last night, the LGBTQ+ Society noted that “this was not an isolated incident,” as one of the panellists, Jason Jones, experienced a similar incident during an event at the University of Edinburgh last week. The statement went on to remark that “bigotry is still prevalent and proud, and can seep into university spaces” and that the society stands “in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ siblings in the Caribbean and beyond, who face such targeted hatred and violence on a day-to-day basis.”

“These attacks are obviously connected and planned well in advance,” Jones, a LGBTQ+ rights activist from Trinidad and Tobago, told The Oxford Blue, “They are designed to create fear and to intimidate young LGBTQ+ and BAME people.”

The practice of invading Zoom calls and filling them with inappropriate and offensive content is known as ‘Zoombombing’, and has become a widespread problem since Zoom rose to prominence as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It is often related to the propagation of racist, homophobic and bigoted material and discourse. Individuals in the UK and US have previously been reported to criminal authorities for Zoombombing.

Having removed the attackers, the event was restarted with additional security measures to prevent a repeat occurrence, and was able to finish what the LGBTQ Society’s statement called an “important and powerful discussion surrounding Britain’s role in anti-gay legislation and the history of LGBTQ+ rights in the Caribbean, as well as the current climate towards LGBTQ+ people in the region.”

In the longer term, though, many will have concerns as to how incidents like this can be prevented, beyond simply kicking individuals out of Zoom calls. “All UK Universities need to unite and create a plan of action to prevent these attacks from happening and also a robust Diversity and Inclusion program for all students and teachers,” Jones said, “we are witnessing the rise of right-wing bigotry that is targeting Universities and we must act now to prevent this disease of hate taking hold in our schools.”

When approached for comment, Oxford University LGBTQ+ Society told The Blue:

“We are going to be working with the Equality and Diversity Unit and the IT Department to develop an initiative to help prevent a reoccurrence of Thursday night’s events and to secure safe spaces for marginalised groups throughout the university. As this issue is affecting Universities across the country, with Edinburgh University’s ACS falling victim to a similar attack to ours just last week, we are pushing for a collective effort from the UK Universities to stop zoom-bombing. In addition to this, we are in the process of reporting this attack to the police as a hate crime in the hopes of holding the perpetrators to account.

“Our Welfare Representatives, Fran (she/her) ouwelf01@gmail.com and Lewis (they/them) at ouwelf02@gmail.com are available for all those in the community that have been impacted by this vicious attack. The University has also briefed the Student Welfare Support Service about the incident, so please get in contact with them if you feel you need to.”