Facebook Oozed Rainbows, but LGBT Activists Say It Denies Them Their Identity

Does the ‘authentic name policy’ discriminate against those whose government ID doesn’t reflect their chosen identity?
Protesters at the gay pride parade in San Francisco. (Photo: Max Whittaker/Getty Images)
Jun 28, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

After the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all 50 states on Friday, Facebook immediately unveiled a tool to help its users celebrate: a filter that tints profile photos in rainbow stripes. It bolstered the company’s image as an LGBT ally while offering its users a simple way to show their solidarity with gay rights.

It may sound like a win for everyone, but some activists aren’t so convinced of the tech giant’s dedication to LGBT equality. At the pride parade in San Francisco on Saturday—an event Facebook sponsored—a group of marchers carried a banner that decried the social network’s “authentic name policy,” which they called shameful. The policy requires all Facebook users to register the name listed on their birth certificate or driver’s license: transparency for the sake of safety. But some in the LGBT community, including a trans woman and former Facebook staffer named Zip, say it discriminates against trans individuals who choose a new name to go with the gender they identify as.

In a blog post published on Medium Saturday, Zip said that in a twist of cruel irony, her Facebook account had been suspended the same day Facebook rolled out its rainbow-colored feature. “I chose my Facebook name six years ago, as I began my transition. Every person I’ve met since then has generally known me by that name, and in part this is precisely because I use it on Facebook,” she wrote. “I so strongly identify with and am identified by that name that when I took a job at Facebook, I put it on my badge.”

Zip called it “insulting” that Facebook sponsored the pride parade in San Francisco yet has not improved its policy to protect transgender people and others who identify by names other than the ones they were born with. For that reason, activists including the drag queen Lil Miss Hot Mess launched a Change.org petition aimed at banning the company from marching in the San Francisco and New York pride parades. “Many of us, especially trans men and women, do not have any government issued ID that reflects our authentic identity,” the petition reads. “Our community is disappearing from Facebook—and they’re letting it happen.”

The petition is the work of My Name Is, a hashtag launched by a group that includes transgender people and drag queens, all of whom say the social network has rejected them because their names don’t match those printed on their birth certificates. Shut out from Facebook, they’ve taken to its competitors—namely, Twitter—to post the hashtag and pressure Facebook to remove its name reporting process, end its practice of using government-issued IDs to authenticate users, and create an appeals process for when all else fails.

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The campaign has yielded some success. In October 2014, Facebook’s vice president of product Chris Cox issued an apology to members of the LGBT community “for the hardship that we’ve put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks.” He attributed the rash of suspended accounts to one Facebook user, apparently a hater who decided to report hundreds of profiles of drag queens and trans people as fake. Still, activists say change has not come fast enough, and Zip’s account suspension serves as mounting evidence for their cause.

“People know this, and they use it as a mechanism to kick each other off the site,” Zip wrote about Facebook’s reporting policy, which can inadvertently invite the type of abuse it seeks to monitor. “If you’re a marginalized person, such as a trans person, you may be left with no way to get back on.”
While millions of Americans are celebrating LGBT pride by changing their profile photos, another group has vowed to boycott the social media giant by disengaging entirely. Using the hashtag #LogOffForPride, former Facebook devotees like Zip are aiming to show that sometimes it takes more than just a rainbow-colored profile picture to stand up for LGBT rights.