An LGBT+ History Month seminar for under-18s was interrupted by a cyber attacker who shouted homophobic, transphobic and racist slurs.
Education non-profit Academus Education was hosting a digital think tank event in celebration of LGBT+ History Month when it was “attacked by a group of 15 cyber terrorists”, managing director Emily Shaed told PinkNews.
Academus, a free education service for students who haven’t had access to Classical education, had been online for just 15 minutes before the attack.
Shaed said the hackers “took over all our controls and began spreading messages of hate” – sharing antisemitic imagery, searching the internet for pornography, shouting “just about every slur you can imagine” and spamming the chat.
Shaed and her whole team were “devastated and disgusted” by the hate they saw. She said: “Academus is supposed to be a safe space for people to come together in celebration of one another.
“So, to see someone take advantage of our platform in such a vicious way is heartbreaking.”
The non-profit, which is supported by UCL Department of Greek and Latin, offers free virtual events including think tanks, roundtables and a summer school to provide young people aged 13 to 18 an introduction to the Classics. The 11 February event was due to bring LGBT+ education to the forefront of a field which tends to be incredibly heteronormative, elitist and white.
‘This is why LGBT+ history month is so important’
Yentl Love, who runs the LGBT+ blog The Queer Classicist, was one of the guest speakers during the event. She was invited to decode the gender binary in academia around Dionysus – the ancient Greek god of wine, winemaking, grape cultivation, fertility, ritual madness, theatre and religious ecstasy.
However, Love was left “sick and outraged” after the attack. She wrote on Twitter that the incident proved why LGBT+ History Month was so important.
Love said: “If anyone wondered why [LGBT+ History Month] was so important, the speakers and participants of [Academus Education]’s LGBTQ+ ancient history online talks were just attacked by a user shouting homophobic, transphobic and racist slurs, and showing disgusting explicit images.”
“Can’t put into words my emotions right now, feel so sick and outraged and s***ty.
“My heart is with the incredible organisers, the other speakers and everyone on the call.
“To everyone I asked to come and watch me present, I am really, really sorry.”
If anyone ever wondered why #LGBTHM21 was so important, the speakers and participants of @academuseducat1‘s LGBTQ+ & Ancient History online talks were just attacked by a user shouting homophobic transphobic and racist slurs, and showing disgusting explicit images.
— Yentl (@QueerClassicist) February 11, 2021
Shaed told PinkNews that for all 71 students in attendance at the event, “it was a terrifying experience and made people feel so violated and unsafe in their own homes”. She said the organisation contacted the police about the attack, reporting it as a cybercrime and hate crime.
But Shaed said the police do not appear able to investigate the horrific event. She explained: “From the stance of cybercrime since we did not lose any money, and our internal security does not seem obviously compromised, they have told us that there is nothing they can do.
“From the perspective of hate crime, the local constabulary has said that they cannot fully investigate the case because of its widespread nature and realistically it would take every single attendee reporting it to their local police force for the case to be escalated.”
Shaed was told the police will report the matter, and has been offered the opportunity to speak to somebody from a victim support team.
She said Academus Education is also conducting an internal investigation to ensure that “our audience is not exposed to such horrific events again” and has advised any attendees to contact them if they need support.
Shaed shared that they plan to re-run the event in the future to share the guest speaker’s works and discuss Classics education through the queer lens.
“We will not let these hateful people silence the good work we are doing,” Shaed said. “We will continue to provide education, continue to celebrate diversity and come together stronger than ever to host future events.”