San Francisco

Drag Queens Say They Will “Mobilize” if Facebook Doesn't Change “Real Names” Policy

Some Bay Area drag queens say they are "disappointed" with the lack of progress made at Wednesday's meeting with Facebook over concerns raised about the social networking site's "real names" policy.

Speaking to reporters at San Francisco City Hall, the group said they would boycott Facebook if they could, but the site is "ingrained in their everyday lives."

The meeting came after the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and their supporters vowed to protest messages some users received saying that their account had been "temporarily suspended" because "it looks like you're not using your real name." 

Facebook suspended users' accounts that appeared to be using names that weren’t "real."

Facebook's stance is that the "real names" policy is designed to "keep the community safe."

But "Lil Miss Hot Mess," who recently had to reluctantly identify herself as Harris David on her Facebook page, said that policy was backfiring.

"Their policy is to provide a safe environment, but we feel that by requiring people to use their legal names it makes people more unsafe by opening them up to attacks," she said.

Lil Miss Hot Mess said that as one of the most important social public forums, Facebook's policy is an issue that affects the transgender and LGBT community, social workers, teachers, victims of domestic violence and people who want anonymity for any number of reasons.

Facebook says it will temporarily reactivate hundreds of recently-disabled accounts but those who had been deactivated will have to use their real names or change their profile to a page.

“Facebook is discriminating by basically not allowing a large part of the community access to a public forum because of this policy,” she said.

"Heklina," a 47-year-old drag queen from San Francisco, said that Wednesday's one-hour meeting didn't result in any decisions, but that the group hopes to keep meeting with Facebook until there is a resolution.

"Facebook's 'real names' policy is unsafe and unfair to performers," she said. "Facebook knows we are mobilized and ready to protest this policy. There are people who work at Facebook who oppose this policy. Facebook has their heart in the right place but their policy is misguided."

Heklina said she would boycott Facebook if she could: “We don’t realize how ingrained Facebook is in our everyday lives. I was shut out of Facebook for 24 hours and felt like I had a limb chopped off.”

Heklina said she got one of those messages last week, after registering on her original Facebook account as "Heklina Heklina." Then she changed her name to "Heklina Grygelko," but was again kicked off Facebook until she registered with her birth name of Steven Heklina Grygelko — a name she doesn't identify with.

Facebook page of Heklina
Drag Queen Heklina had to had her birth name of Steven Grygelko to her Facebook page as per the company's "real name" policy.

Heklina said she doesn't perform under that name and doesn't want to start a new fan page, because all of her followers now use her personal one, which is more interactive than a fan page.

Facebook's "real name" policy stipulates that "people use their real identities" and "provide their real names, so you always know who you're connecting with." Nicknames can be used if they're a variation of your real name, and an alternative can be listed on an account by adding an "alternate name" to your profile. "Pretending to be anything or anyone isn't allowed," the rules state.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Souvall confirmed that Facebook employees, and not an algorithm, began emailing users recently to verify names that didn't appear to be legitimate, and that some users were blocked recently. "We pulled some down last week," Souvall said, adding that the reason is to hold users accountable for their actions, namely nameless bullying in cyberspace.

The unusual gathering — between the social media giant and a group that bills itself as a "leading-edge Order of queer nuns" that aims to protect and promote human rights for "those on the edges" — was organized by San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, who last week called on Facebook to meet with the drag queens. One of them started a petition with more than 18,000 signatures from New York to Georgia. The movement is growing on Twitter with supporters using the hashtag #MyNameIs.

Heklina said Campos would reach out to Facebook to set up more meetings in the future. "Next time we hope to meet with people who can directly influence the policy," she said.

Souvall told NBC Bay Area Wednesday morning, ahead of the discussion at Menlo Park headquarters, that the company is "open to talking with them." "We'll see from there. We're open to hearing their suggestions," he said.

Still, Souvall stopped short of saying Facebook would changes its longstanding rule that people must register with their legal names to open an account.

Souvall didn't comment on whether Facebook would follow Google Plus' move in July, when it ended its "real name" policy. In a blog post, the company said by forcing users to use their real names, "it also excluded a number of people who wanted to be part of it." The company added that it hoped the change would make Google Plus a more "welcoming and inclusive" place.

Facebook's policy on famous people, such as Lady Gaga, allows for "real name" exceptions because the company feels the world knows them by that name.

NBC Bay Area's Bob Redell and Scott Budman contributed to this report.

Contact Us