Within hours of the United States supreme court’s decision on same-sex marriage last Friday, people with a certain number of progressively minded friends found their Facebook news feeds dominated by rainbow-coloured profile pictures created by a special link on the website.
The move put Facebook’s equality credentials in the spotlight. But it was challenged the next day, Saturday, at San Francisco Pride, an event the company sponsored.
The Radical Faeries, a group at San Francisco Pride, said the festival should dump Facebook as a sponsor because of its ban on adopted names. The policy was unfair to LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) people who use adopted names to avoid homophobia or to express their true identity, they said.
“I don’t like anybody telling me who I am or have to be,” said Storm Arcana, 42, on a rug in the Faerie Freedom Village, a colourful camp near city hall. “That’s anathema to my essence. I’m self-defined and self-described and that is my right.”
He objected to Facebook sponsoring Pride. “There’s too much of a contrast between what they represent and what we represent.”
The #MyNameIs organisation has been fighting for Facebook to change its name policy. It demonstrated against it at San Francisco Pride. The group is led by San Francisco-based drag queens, but also includes domestic abuse survivors, Native Americans and other people who believe that they should be allowed to use names different from those that appear on their birth certificate.
Facebook, which has met members of the group, has slightly amended its policy but insists that it distinguishes itself from other social networks by refusing to let people be anonymous.
“This policy directly harms LGBTQ people, especially transgender and queer people around the world who face daily discrimination, and use social media like Facebook to find support, build community, and express their authentic selves,” said organiser and drag queen Lil Miss Hot Mess in a statement. “Facebook may seem like a trivial waste of time, but for trans people and LGBTQ youth who face disproportionate rates of violence and suicide, it can literally be a lifeline.”
The #MyNameIs group tried banning Facebook from the parade with an online petition that collected more than 2 500 signatures. Facebook didn’t respond to requests for comment. But it remained as a sponsor, to the dismay of the #MyNameIs organisers and the Radical Faeries, which blends countercultural values, queer consciousness and spirituality.
Many members said they had been expelled from Facebook because they could not supply documentation to prove their adopted names were real.
Lovely Day, a 48-year-old woman who took that name six years ago, said Facebook suspended her account on Christmas Day, saying she needed to prove its authenticity. The suspension came soon after she posted videos of controversial police shootings, prompting her suspicion that trolls who disliked her viewpoint had alerted Facebook.
She lamented that the company was a festival sponsor. “I’m not really into it but I can’t change what corporate dollars do,” she said. Day had a consolation: she is still able to use a Facebook account registered as Bobbi Terri, the names of two plastic trans dolls she takes on trips. “I can’t have an account,” she said, “but the dolls, sure.”
Other Faeries accused Facebook of wanting to use names on credit cards to monetise data. Stellara Solanum, 31, bristled about having to use his birth name, Kevin Faulkner. “My housemate spent a lot more time getting to know me before naming me than my parents did,” he said.
Solanum said he struggled to recognise friends on Facebook because they were obliged to use birth names he did not know. “Now it’s ‘Who the hell is John Stone?’ It’s disconnecting me.” The problem was gravest for queer people facing homophobic threats, he said.
On Saturday, a former Facebook employee wrote on blog platform Medium that her profile was suspended because she goes by a name different from the one she was born with. She said the ban happened while she was at Trans Pride on Friday, the very day the US supreme court announced that same-sex marriage is legal in every US state.
“If you’re a marginalised person, such as a trans person, you may be left with no way to get back on,” she wrote. “Facebook has handed an enormous hammer to those who would like to silence us, and time after time I see that hammer coming down on trans women who have just stepped out of line by suggesting that perhaps we’re being mistreated.” – © Guardian News & Media, 2015