Sister Roma, Drag Performer, Talks About Leading Fight Against Facebook Name Policy

Drag queens Sister Roma, right, speaks as Heklina, left, adjusts her hair during a news conference about their battle with Fa
Drag queens Sister Roma, right, speaks as Heklina, left, adjusts her hair during a news conference about their battle with Facebook at City Hall Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014, in San Francisco, Calif. San Francisco drag queens are sparring with Facebook over its policy requiring people to use their real names, rather than drag names such as Pollo Del Mar and Heklina. In recent weeks, Facebook has been deleting the profiles of self-described drag queens and other performers who use stage names because they did not comply with the social networking site's requirement that users go by their "real names" on the site. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Sister Roma of the the legendary Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the drag group that began in San Francisco in 1979 and has performed and raised money for AIDS and other causes throughout the country, was recently shocked after being logged out of Facebook and stripped of an identity known to thousands of people in the LGBT community and beyond.

“Like a lot of people, I was simply using Facebook, and then I was forcibly logged out, and I was instructed to sign in and I had to change my profile name to match the legal name as it appears on my drivers license or credit card or my profile would be suspended, and would be deleted,” Sister Roma said.

Sister Roma was yet another target of a Facebook policy that has caused an uproar in recent weeks, as many other drag queens and performers, as well as people who need anonymity on Facebook for safety reasons, such as LGBT people in countries where there are laws that could jail them simply for being gay or transgender, have faced a similar situation. The policy has been in place for years, but most troubling about it to many is that it is not enforced unless a complaint is filed, leading Sister Roma and others to conclude that they are perhaps being targeted by individuals or groups hostile to LGBT people.

For many people who are not yet out about being gay, lesbian or bisexual, anonymity is key as they make friends on Facebook to help guide them. And for many transgender people, still in the process of transitioning, their names may not match the name on their drivers license at a given time.

"So I did that,” Sister Roma explained in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress. “I entered my legal name and then my profile popped up, with my picture and then it said my legal name, Michael Williams, and I was like, ‘Oh I didn’t expect that to happen.’ I didn’t realize that I was going to be presented to the world as Michael Williams, which is not how I identify myself or how anyone identifies me.”

Sister Roma then went about the arduous task of trying to contact Facebook.

I mean, I was really pissed,” Sister Roma said. “So I tried to contact Facebook and I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to contact Facebook, but good luck, honey! It is not easy. So I actually googled, ‘How do you contact Facebook?' and I discovered that there’s a little tiny help button you can push but with just a very limited number of issues that they will address with you. So I just turned to social media. I went on Facebook. I went on Twitter. I said, ‘This is outrageous. How dare they tell me who I am! Nobody knows my legal name. It’s not important'…And that’s when the emails started to come in from people. I got emails from people that would rip your heart out. People with legitimate, important reasons that they use protected names on Facebook that do not match the names on their legal ID.”

Along with San Francisco City Supervisor David Campos, other activists and members of legal groups such as the ACLU, Sister Roma met with Facebook officials. But, as has been reported, Facebook refused to budge on the policy, despite the backlash. Sister Roma does believe, however, that the Facebook officials finally understood why anonymity is important to many people, even if they didn't indicate a change would happen. Other employees of Facebook, who approached the activists during the visit, said they agreed that the policy needs to be changed. The group hopes a second meeting with Facebook will get some action.



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