Arun Smith: Cyber Bullying and Solidarity

I work on the Internet. It’s where I do a lot of my activism, including writing for and moderating Queerism. I use the Internet to communicate with friends, to research, to explore, and to play.

There is also porn on the Internet. Enough said.

The point being that I spend a great deal of time on the World Wide Web, and I have gotten to know it very well. It can be this wonderful source of information that has the answer to every question you’ve ever thought of. It can let you talk to your partner hundreds of miles away through laggy video chat.

PORN!

Yes, the Internet can be fabulous. But it can be a nasty little bastard too. It can embarrass you. It can ruin your life. It can give hateful people a way to violate the sanctity of your own home.

These polar opposites are even more extreme for queer people, which is pretty true for most things. Without the Internet, I wouldn’t know half the things I do about queer theory or intersectionality. I also wouldn’t have to worry about being one Facebook status away from being brutally outed to the world. Cyber-bullying is basically the worst nightmare of queer folks because we don’t have to really do anything for people to start attacking us. We kind of just have to exist. But if we actually do something to piss people off, AND are queer, the Internet becomes nothing more than another blunt object to hit us in the face with.

An example of this exists right here in Ottawa. You might have seen him on CBC Ottawa’s newscast or heard him on CBC radio or seen a brief article floating around. This story is about a personal friend of mine. His name? Arun Smith.

Arun is a 24-year-old student at Carleton University. His personal politics are radically left of centre, and he refuses to tolerate any kind of oppressive behaviour. Because of this, he had been a pain in the ass of the vocal right-wing on campus all year. Several weeks ago, it was brought to his attention that an individual or individuals had started making memes about him.

The first few memes had mostly to do with his political views and actions on campus. But then they remembered something. Arun is gay. Well, the fuck if these people were going to let a gay man make a stand against oppression and get away with it. So then the memes got progressively more offensive. Even violent.

Arun, who initially took the memes with a grain of salt, got steadily more worried. He began to lose control over his emotions regarding the memes, even fearing for his safety. He contacted the Ottawa Police Services and gave his story to the CBC chapter in Ottawa. Though he maintained a strong outer decorum, within his mind things were getting worse. A triggering argument with one of the Executives of CUSA (the Carleton University Student Association) over delays in CUSA releasing a statement of support for Arun left him hospitalized and emotionally depleted.

Cyber-bullying is so lethal because one person can spread hate to thousands with the click of a button. But this reality has a brighter side. As easy as it is to attack someone online, it is equally simple to support someone and show solidarity. When Arun broke down, his support network was more than willing to help him. Supportive statuses, messages, texts, and the like. Some from queer people, others not. Some from friends, others from people who knew him only from his activities on campus. One such friend, well-known Carleton student Sarah McCue, actually stayed with Arun in the hospital. It was a crisis that transcended normal barriers of faith, sexuality and political affiliation.

Arun’s story is a testimony both to the horrors of cyber-bullying, especially for queer people, and to how it can be combated in solidarity. The first we know to be a reality. The problem is that the solidarity and support fails to cultivate significantly more times than not. Arun’s work in anti-oppression gave him a pre-existing support network that crossed most demographic lines. Most people don’t have that, and if the queer community is anything, it is fragmented to all shit by demographic lines . Cyber-bullying is a problem that affects all different areas of queerdom (my little word for the community) at one time or another, so support needs to come from everywhere. If we see someone being harassed online for their sexuality or gender, whether they’re still questioning or a radical queer activist, we need to be there to stand against hate and in solidarity with the target.

We shouldn’t ignore allies either. No, cis heterosexuals aren’t always super nice to us. I fucking get it. But lots of them are really awesome, understanding people, and they just want to help. Help them help you. It works out better for everyone involved.

Speaking of allies, let’s get a little intersectional here. What’s to say we can’t be allies too? The only way to stop oppression is to seek it out, whatever form it is, and challenge it. Challenge racism. Challenge sexism. Challenge classism. Challenge hate.

When queer people, or minority groups in general, are left to advocate for themselves, we are setting them up for failure. If we all stand together, it gives everyone involved the best chance to stay strong in the face of adversity.

–Riley Evans, Head Writer/Moderator of Queerism

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