09/18/2014 10:47 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

But What's Your Real Name? Facebook's Dangerous Name Policy


Facebook's "real name" policy is sparking headlines because a slew of profiles owned by drag queens, including the fabulous Sister Roma and Heklina, were shut down after being reported by unknown users to be in violation. Upon hearing the public outcry, Facebook invited a group of local leaders and advocates representing various communities to attend a meeting on their campus.

While the meeting was rocky, and the issue is yet to be resolved, I am confident that the brilliant minds at Facebook will work with our communities in good faith to find a resolution, and I urge them to act quickly.

The policy states that Facebook users should use their "real name" like that on their "driver's license or credit card."

For transgender people, a community already violently targeted at disproportionate rates, this unfair policy could present another barrier to being able to safely, publicly live an authentic life. Laws allowing someone to legally change their name vary from state to state and country to country. The process is often costly and quite burdensome, especially for those who are low-income, immigrants, or otherwise having a hard time making ends meet.

In some situations a person's name simply cannot be legally changed.

Facebook's policy, however unintentional, implies transgender people's names are not their real ones. Transgender people move through this world having their identities questioned at every turn: at the supermarket when the cashier calls them the wrong pronoun, at the airport when the security guard questions their gender, or on the street when people stare or whisper. I've heard from many transgender people that they have been asked what their "real name" is. It's degrading.

Imagine if a transgender woman named Jane, someone who lives her authentic life every day as Jane, was suddenly told she had to change her Facebook profile back to her outdated, legal name of John. Take a moment now to think through all the ways that could negatively impact her life.

The one place transgender people, and so many other marginalized groups, have found support, safety, and community is Facebook. It's a wonderful resource that offers endless opportunity to connect. What a shame it is to see our sense of security and community disappear alongside the profiles of our most beloved performers and friends.

While the policy was intended to ensure people were their authentic selves online and to help keep others safe, it is clearly having the opposite effect. Victims of domestic violence, people in legal enforcement professions, closeted LGBT people, and a host of others who need privacy are also at risk because of this policy.

There are better, more fair ways to uphold the safety and authenticity of Facebook's users.

Last year, I attended Facebook's Compassion Day at which the social science behind some of their new tools to report and resolve bullying and harassment was presented. Tools like those will help keep us safe, not the outdated, discriminatory policy that requires us show some form of identification.

All of us should have a fair chance to be our authentic selves online. Facebook should follow Google's lead and rescind this policy as soon as possible.