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LGBT Activists Challenge Facebook On Policy Requiring Legal Names

The company is requiring many users to use their legal names, which activists say could harm transgender people, drag queens, and other users who may use pseudonyms on the social network for various reasons.

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Activists from San Francisco's LGBT community will meet with Facebook representatives on Wednesday after a rash of recent instances in which users — particularly drag queens — have been forced to use their legal names on their profiles rather than the names by which they identify.

In recent weeks, drag queens, burlesque performers, and several other Facebook users who have used stage names, pseudonyms, chosen names, and other names not reflecting their legal identification have reportedly been forced by the social network to reveal their legal names on their personal profiles or face having them shut down.

LGBT activists challenging the policy say that while the policy doesn't only affect LGBT people, it severely impacts many in the LGBT community, who for one reason or another, choose not to use their given names. For example, transgender users could be at risk if they no longer identify with the names they were given at birth and use chosen names on their Facebook profiles — and for some, such a revelation could be dangerous, the activists said.

"There needs to be dialogue about this issue," San Francisco Supervisor David Campos told BuzzFeed News. "There's a safety issue here — why target these particular individuals when you have a lot of people who are allowed to use something other than their legal name? Facebook should do what they need to do to protect people, and this one-size-fits-all policy doesn't make sense for a lot of reasons."

Drag queens, too, worry using their legal names could isolate them on social media, seeing as they are widely known in their communities by their stage names or chosen names, such as Sister Roma, a prominent Bay Area drag queen and member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

"It happened to me," Roma told BuzzFeed News when reached by phone. "So I entered my legal name, and I really feel slighted by it seeing as I've had my name as Roma on Facebook for eight years. If you ask anyone, my name is Roma."

Both Roma and Campos are among about a dozen community members and activists who plan to meet face to face with representatives at Facebook's San Francisco campus on Wednesday. So far, the massive social network has said the policy is nothing new and is meant to ensure the authenticity of connections among its users.

"If people want to use an alternative name on Facebook, they have several different options available to them, including providing an alias under their name on their profile, or creating a Page specifically for that alternative persona," a company spokesperson said in a statement. "As part of our overall standards, we ask that people who use Facebook provide their real name on their profile."

According to the spokesperson, the recent cases were prompted by other users reporting the accounts to Facebook administrators and that the company does not actively look for such accounts. Facebook would not say how many users have been affected in the last few weeks or whether they are concentrated primary in the San Francisco area as evidenced by recent reports. Issues, such as how transgender users should identity on their profiles and others will likely be addressed at Wednesday's meeting, the spokesperson said.

"I think the two sides have the same objective," Campos said. "You want to have to open and authentic dialogue through Facebook. Facebook's concern is to ensure they verify the identities of the individuals involved by requiring birth names, IDs, credit cards, and things of that nature."

But if Facebook wants the LGBT community to be authentic as who they are, then such measures need to change, he said.

"The point from LGBT community is that we want the same authentic communication too, but for members of the LGBT their authentic identity is not necessarily on their ID or credit cards. Their chosen name for a member of the transgender community or their ID is not necessarily reflected in any of the documents Facebook requires. Authentic communication can't happen if people are not allowed to be themselves."

Roma notes that the policy affects those outside of the LGBT community as well, such as teachers and police officers who would use the social network to communicate, but for privacy and safety reasons choose not display their legal names.

"After this turned into a news story, I've received messages from people from all over the world [who go by other names on Facebook]," Roma said. "You wouldn't believe the amount of people who use fake names on Facebook — abused women who have escaped from dangerous spouses ... bullied teens ... there's a lot of people who live double lives, too. This is a much bigger issue."

Roma plans to attend the meeting at Facebook in drag, so representatives can see that "this is genuinely who we are and that we're real people," Roma said. The activists hope to come out of the meeting with some kind of progress towards changing the way the company handles names and name changes. If not, Roma said they will protest in the streets and at the Facebook campus as they had originally planned for Tuesday, prior to being invited to speak with company officials.

"In a matter of minutes, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence will have a bus and a bullhorn and 200 drag queens there," Roma said.