LGBT email mix-up ‘outs’ its members

YUSU’s LGBT Social has been strongly criticised after accidentally ‘outing’ 100s of University of York students.

In a welcome email sent round during the first week of term advertising the then upcoming Sunday Week One LGBT social, email addresses of everyone on the mailing list were left unhidden, publicising the identification of everyone who had signed up to the community and making their contact information easily available.

The large scale breach of privacy has left many incensed. One LGBT member, who wished to remain anonymous, told Nouse: “I am really upset by having my privacy intruded. When I signed up I did so under the impression that I was joining a community where my identity and orientation would not be broadcast.”

She went on to say: “I am certainly not ready to come out to everybody yet, it seems as if the decision may have been made for me. People can look up my name on the York student directory from my email now. What if my parents get hold of that email?”

Josh Fisher, a third-year student, said: “It’s very insensitive at the base. Freshers, or indeed anyone involved, may be very nervous and excited and this doesn’t really set the right tone.

“I personally am not that bothered by this but you meet a lot of people who are very conscious about their sexuality. It’s not up to LGBT to out people – it’s very invasive and unfair.” Robert Hughes and Michellie Young, LGBT Social Chairs, recognised the error quickly and subsequently sent a second email apologising for the mistake.

The second email, sent round just over an hour and a half after the first, stated: “On behalf of LGBT Social, we’d like to apologise for the email that was sent out last night which didn’t hide your email addresses. We take the privacy of our members incredibly seriously and would never actively out anyone.

“It was a genuine mistake brought on by lack of sleep that we are very sorry for, and never wish to repeat. We know this does not excuse or reverse it, but we would like to let you know that we will be even more careful when we send out emails in the future.”

Laura Borisovaite, YUSU Welfare Officer, expressed her concern and commented on provisions to make sure the issue never arose again: “This was an unfortunate human error and the responsible people apologised for it as soon as they were aware.

“They have moved from the previous mailing system to an anonymous mailing list in order to ensure that this does not happen again. For those who have been affected by this situation, I would urge them to seek support available from the Advice and Support Centre, myself, or Nightline.”

Speaking to Nouse, Hughes said: “The incident itself was a simple human error, and we had an apology sent out to the mailing list within a short time afterwards. Whilst unfortunate, this wasn’t the first case of such a thing happening with a society or service on campus, however it seems to be the only one to have gained attention due to our decision to actively apologise.

Hughes continued to say that the society “have updated our email system to prevent any problems in the future”.

One comment

  1. As one of the people who was sent this email, I would like to make the following points.

    1. Not everyone on the LGBT social mailing list is LGBT. Some people on the mailing list are just nice people (known as allies) who enjoy the events put on by LGBT social. If someone looking at the list assumed that everyone on it was LGBT, they’d be wrong. There is nothing specific about anyone’s identity that has been revealed.

    2. The list of emails, even though it leaked, is only accessible to people on that mailing list. All the people on the LGBT social mailing list should be nice to LGBT people, otherwise there was no point joining.

    3. As I said on the article in the comment section, there is a lot of ways in which LGBT social emails can out people. The emails tell people where LGBT people are going to be! Yet you’ve never complained about this breach of confidentiality, allowing people unfriendly to LGBT people advanced notice of where LGBT people will congregate.

    When I emailed the chairs of LGBT social to point out this mistake of theirs (they later told me I was not the only one to contact them), I was more concerned that posting the email list “was bad for security”, as an unscrupulous person could sell on the mailing list to spam companies. However, I’ve been in numerous societies that have made this mistake in the past, and this has never occured. I think that people going and looking up who the email addresses refer to is even less likely.

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