- Arts & Literature
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By Jonathan Tomlin
Oxford University LGBTQ Society is reeling after a spate of aggressive in-fighting on Facebook which saw a former Secretary of the Oxford Conservative Association (OCA) temporarily banned from the society’s official group.
Hundreds of increasingly heated comments were posted on the OU LGBTQ Society Facebook group, which is public and has over 300 members, within a period of only a couple of hours last Friday.
The argument arose when Yingtong Ding, the female bisexuality rep for the society and a visiting student from China, complained at how few women attend society events, she wrote: “Girls: can you please show up more in our future events”. Some other members of the group viewed her reference to ‘girls’ as sexist and anti-feminist.
An argument then ensued as members debated whether or not the term ‘girls’ was sexist. Simone Webb, a first year PPE student at Hertford, commented on the group: “You know, I think if you called us ‘women’, it might make some of us at least more likely to turn up to events.”
An administrator for the society deleted the thread from the Facebook group after Jim Everett, who was OCA’s secretary in 2011, commented: “You are fucking insane.”
He also said: “I think you girls should go get another group where you can go hate on the world and circle jerk together, instead of pissing off everyone and making LGBTQSoc members look idiotic.”
As the number of comments escalated, administrators deleted hundreds of comments from the group, causing more controversy over what many members viewed as censorship.
The dispute has intensified after a number of blog posts about the incident were posted online, including one by Alex Gabriel, an undergraduate studying English and German. Tom Oakley, a student at Hertford, posted a link to the blog post on the Facebook group on Monday, to which Webb, replied: “ Right, Tom, posting that here wasn’t in any way provocative….”
After a response from Oakley, Webb avoided a potential second online quarrel, writing: “Either way, I’m out now. You won’t catch me engaging any more on this issue.” Another student, Eli Keren, also posted: “I don’t think that it’s going to help anyone if we risk descending into another public tiff. That’s not what this group is for.”
The society has faced a number of difficulties recently. Three committee members have told The Oxford Student they are considering resignation over the facebook dispute. Last term Alex Brahmam, a student at Wadham, resigned from his position as Entz rep on the committee over a dispute about the weekly LGBTQ drinks event and society funds. After his resignation Bramham said: “I can’t be bothered working with these clowns anymore, they go to pieces over “gay marriage” being a discriminatory term because it excludes “bisexual marriage” but leave the society itself to shambles!”
One committee member, who asked not to be named, said: “The committee has been plagued by problems recently. Our president has not been elected officially by the society and many positions are vacant.”
In a committee email shown to The Oxford Student, the society’s treasurer said: “We decided that it is best to make the Facebook group admin” explaining that this would: “mitigate both the flame wars and the unnecessary spam that gets posted on the group.”
However, Stephen Pritchett, publicity officer for the society, said: “LGBTQ society is a welfare society and as such it’s our responsibility to provide a safe space for members. This should extend to our online presence but it shouldn’t go as far as censorship. The decision to stop members being able to post on the Facebook group was not made by the whole committee.”
Webb disagreed: “I felt that considering Jim Everett’s comments in that conversation, it was right that he should be removed, as he’d contravened the Facebook rules. I think the person who removed comments from the group acted as she saw best, and I have no complaint.”
Everett, a student at Corpus Christi, said: “LGBTQSoc has no place for sexism, transphobia and ableism. Unfortunately, certain reactionaries see such things where there are none, alienating members and causing substantial unnecessary divisions in the society. The argument was between an extreme fringe with LGBTQSoc who make things very difficult for the majority by attacking them on minor, terminological issues.”
Oakley added: “Basically they’re acting like we’re naughty schoolboys and can’t be trusted with their precious internet… some people are being ridiculously oversensitive, for example pretending to be really offended by the fact that a female member of the group said something along the lines of ‘can we have more girls turning up to events’ and someone took huge offense to not being referred to as ‘women’.” He went on to say: “The person in question is lovely in person but she really needs to get a life when it comes to being offended about things on the internet.”
Ding was upset by the dispute, and said: “I think it will be good to have a uni-wide discussion about not only what happened in the LGBTQ group but also what is going on Facebook: people being irresponsible with regards to what they post on Facebook. You can delete the posts, but you can’t delete the harm you did to people. People’s Facebook presence is also part of themselves, and they should be very aware of that.”
The society’s president, Sam Weinberg, said: “Ours is a large and diverse society—there are therefore plenty of diverging viewpoints about nearly everything. We aim to accommodate those viewpoints until debate devolves into name-calling and mud-slinging, at which point it is our job to moderate discussions, as with any online forum.”