Facebook 'Real Name' Controversy Continues

by David-Elijah Nahmod

South Florida Gay News

Saturday September 27, 2014

On Wednesday, Sept. 17, drag queens in San Francisco met with Facebook executives to discuss the social media company's controversial policy to force them, along with adult film performers and transgender people, to post their legal birth names on their Facebook pages or risk being shut out of their accounts.

The meeting was arranged by David Campos, an openly gay member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Campos expressed hope that Facebook would come to realize that this policy was wrong and misguided, but at a City Hall news conference that afternoon, he reported that nothing had changed.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that hiding behind what he called pseudonyms shows a lack of integrity, and insisted that all those who had Facebook pages must comply with the real names policy. For many transgender people, their current names are their real names, as they underwent legal name changes as part of their transition.

SFGN spoke to Michael Williams, aka Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who explained why protesting Facebook's real names policy matters. The Sisters are a San Francisco based troupe of drag nuns who serve as goodwill ambassadors for the LGBT community. They often raise critically needed funds for AIDS and other charities.

"Definitely a lot of porn stars keep their real identities private because of discrimination and a general stigma around porn," Sister Roma said.

Roma thinks that the need for anonymity goes much further. "There are real safety issues," she said. "Abuse survivors and trans people could be subjected to discrimination, and to violence."

Roma also pointed out that people who work in the mental health field often need "protective names. So that their patients don't find them."

Sister Roma also noted that people in the witness protection program could use protective names on Facebook in order to safely keep in touch with loved ones. "Why take that away from them?" she asked.

"I get the impression that this issue has been going on internally at Facebook," Roma said. "There have been heated discussions inside, so there are people in the company who agree with our point of view that this policy is discriminatory. That gives me hope."

Roma said that she doesn't care if people know her real name, but that Facebook needs to think about those who could be put at risk by being outed. "People are distraught because Facebook is their only link to family," she said. "We are not going to give up for them."

In the meantime, the Sister said that leaving Facebook is an option. "Go to Google Plus," she said.

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