by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
On Monday, the protest scheduled for Facebook's Menlo Park campus had been postponed after Gay San Francisco Supervisor David Campos arranged a meeting with company executives and drag queens. Leading the charge was outspoken Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, Sister Roma, whose real name is Michael Williams, and Heklina, whose real name is Stefan Grygelko.
The meeting, most people thought, was a good sign that Facebook would drop its potentially dangerous policy where the world's most popular social network is demanding that users - well, not really all, just the LGBTQ ones mostly - change their stage names or chosen names to the name that appears on their birth certificate.
And even that doesn't work. Last week local entertainer and activist Chase Silva was told that his middle name, which is Hawaiian and over 20 letters long, was not his legal name. Only, it was. Silva went so far as to upload a portion of his birth certificate, which clearly shows he was telling the truth (not that anyone who isn't ignorant to names that sound different to 'Smith' or 'White' needed to see proof). Facebook officials still did not accept the name, and Chase, rather than lose all of his contacts, videos and photos, simply used the middle initial, 'N.,' and told Facebook officials where they could shove the rest of those letters and moved on.
Meanwhile, the 'I AM' photos that are being uploaded by performers (drag, burlesque, but mostly drag) have tripled since last week. The case could easily be made that these entertainers have been targeted because Lady Gaga is certainly not Stephanie Germanotto's 'real name' and I'm pretty sure that well-known author Danielle Steel dropped a few names from her birth certificate, which has her designated as being named Danielle Fernande Dominique Schuelein-Steel. Yet, their stage or pen names have not been targeted. Something doesn't seem right, because something is most definitely not right. We know bigotry and discrimination when we see it - so Facebook officials have picked a fight with the wrong crowd. But even amongst Gays, to pick a fight with drag queens is just poor judgment. They are, and always will be, loud, and with a microphone in hand, and a wanting audience waiting in the wings.
In addition, more and more people - many who are using their legal name for their profile name, but agree that people should have the right to choose - are signing the petition daily. As Seattle Gay News goes to press, the Olivia La Garce petition has an impressive over 20,000 signatures, and shows no signs of slowing down.
It is important to note that the San Francisco queens that are organizing around this issue and the Seattle queens organizing locally are working separately, but towards the same cause - meaning that no organization or official campaign name has been launched, but cooperation coming from both cities seems to be a key reason why so many know about this issue. For activists that have spent many years organizing, this issue is dripping with nostalgia. It was, after all, a drag queen that threw the first punch/brick that started the modern day LGBTQ equality movement at Stonewall in 1969.
I think this issue really speaks to drag culture; if you really think about it, most queens have stage names that are all camp or all drag haus. As outlandish or weird or fun or just plain sexually suggestive as these names are - they belong to the performer and the community as one in the same. When Mama Tits stared and yelled down the so-called Christian protestors at this year's Pride Parade, the community felt they had done the same. Love them or hate them, the drag queens represent our culture and history in the most visible way possible - even on TV.
Speaking of RuPaul ... has RuPaul, the creator of 'RuPaul's Drag Race,' the drag queen who fought to use the word 'Tranny,' a word the Transgender community has criticized him for using, been told to change his account? Who knows? And who cares? Not me. The reason why this movement is taking off is not because somebody is or is not famous. In fact, I see this as being the opposite of that. It is taking off because the queens and their supporters have had enough, and after what must seem like an eternity of cold shoulders, 'you're not welcome here' looks, and attacks, these queens have dug their heels in and are determined to bring the world's most known and used social network to its knees, bowing before its Queens.
Back to San Francisco ... On Wednesday, Supervisor David Campos arranged a meeting with company executives and drag queens Sister Rom and a good number of drag queens joined them.
At a news conference at City Hall Wednesday afternoon, Campos said he, the drag queens, and others who met with Facebook staff were 'hopeful we would be able to get' an acknowledgment from Facebook that its policy 'was wrong and misguided,' and that they would get the social site to lay out what steps would be taken to correct the situation.
'That, unfortunately, was not accomplished,' Campos said, but 'we are committed to continuing to work with Facebook.'
A future meeting date has not been set. Currently, no protest has been scheduled - or at least one hasn't been officially announced, in response. But that doesn't mean one is not coming.
The Associated Press reported that Facebook restored the suspended accounts for two weeks so people can decide whether to provide their real names.
Heklina said that Wednesday's meeting only included a public relations staffer and a content policy employee who joined the meeting via satellite.
Campos said, 'After an hour of discussion, we have yet to hear from Facebook they agree the policy is wrong.'
Advocates said that during the hour-long meeting, they shared people's stories of how the policy has harmed them.
'We're not going to rest until this unfair, discriminatory policy is taken away from Facebook,' Sister Roma said. 'They're claiming they're trying to create a safe environment,' but she and others have heard from people who have escaped abusive spouses and 'the only outlet they have is through Facebook.'
Heklina, the longtime hostess of the 'Trannyshack' drag show, popular in both Seattle and San Francisco, said Facebook is 'an incredibly important marketing tool' for artists, and if the company 'really wanted to find out if I was genuine or not,' staff there would just have to look at the numerous photos of her performing over the years that she's included on her page.
Advocates said that LGBT employees at Facebook have been pushing their cause, and Roma said, 'There are people on both sides of this issue within the company.'
Roma, who's had a profile on the site since 2008, said she hasn't lost any data. 'I downloaded my archive,' she said, advising other users to do the same.
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!