Content Warning: This article has mentions of anti-queer and anti-trans rhetoric.
To Nicki Lyons-MacFarlane, chair of the Imprint Youth Association, Trans Remembrance Day is already an emotional event for the community. But this year’s event was met with an unprecedented incident — unidentified individuals took over their virtual vigil to spread pornographic imagery and shout racial and homophobic slurs.
On Nov. 20, Fierté Fredericton Pride, Youth Imprint Association and the 203 Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity organized a Zoom event to memorialize the loss of transgender individuals’ lives over the past year. However, it was disrupted by unidentified users who shared graphic content, which forced them to shut down the initial Zoom meeting and create a new one.
While Lyons-MacFarlane is no stranger to online hate, they were surprised when the incident happened.
“We were here commemorating almost 400 people who have passed from hate, violence and suicide,” they said. “I had hoped that, for one night, maybe, they’ll just let us be.”
The incident occurred before the event had properly started, as attendees were waiting for one of the interpreters to join.
According to Jenna Lyn Albert, a board member of Fierté Fredericton Pride, the Zoom call allowed attendees to turn on their cameras as there was a debriefing session happening after the vigil. Organizers wanted to give attendees the chance to participate and talk to each other. This feature was exploited by the Zoom bombers.
Albert said the organization used the free version of Zoom for the event, which might have facilitated the “trolling.” In the past, Fierté Fredericton Pride have used the paid version of Zoom Webinar, which allows the host and any designated panelists to share their video, audio and screen, as well as mute and turn off the cameras of attendees.
“We had done events over regular Zoom before and not had any issues … Obviously, there was still a breach and folks were able to get in, so we know now that we’ll be reinvesting in Zoom Webinar to avoid that happening in the future,” they said.
Organizers quickly took down the Zoom meeting and created a new one, this time filtering all attendees in a breakout room. Albert said the vigil went on to read the names of 392 individuals who have lost their lives to transphobic violence and suicide.
“It’s important not just to mourn and memorialize the lives lost to our communities over the last year, but also together as a community, to be able to unite and to keep up the fight for our rights,” they said.
Both Lyons-MacFarlane and Albert said they do not intend to involve the police in this virtual attack on the vigil.
“It seemed like a really coordinated attack to me. It seemed like there might have been more than one. I couldn’t keep track of what was happening, it was going too fast,” said Lyons-MacFarlane, noting that it would be difficult to track down who did it due to the nature of Zoom bombing.
To Albert, these attacks are getting more frequent and creative in response to the political landscape.
“When politicians are putting forward anti-trans policies, the general public sees that and it can enable more hateful actions, more violence towards the queer and trans community at large,” they said.
St. Thomas University’s response
St. Thomas University’s vice president of academics and research Kim Fenwick sent an email to all students informing them of the incident and attaching both campus and community services available to anyone who may have been affected.
“The university condemns this act and all forms of hate speech and transphobia. We will take steps to support the online protection of future events,” read the email.
The contact of Gail Costello, STU’s 2SLGBTQ advisor, appeared as one of those resources. She said she talked to other faculty members and to STU’s spokesperson, Jeffrey Carleton, on what to include in the statement, noting it can be triggering for students who attended the memorial.
“I think what [attendees] saw was upsetting … To just have their event, which was a memorial service, be violated like that, I think was pretty upsetting,” said Costello.
The Aquinian reached out to the 203 Centre to ask their perspective on the matter but it did not respond in a timely manner.