Facebook Agrees to Enhance Real Names Policy After Dispute With Drag Queens

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A Facebook vp posts a lengthy explanation and apology on the site.

Following a high-profile fight with Facebook that lasted more than two weeks, drag queens and LGBT activists across the country today scored a major victory with the social media giant’s real name policy. The community also got a lengthy apology, too.

Several hundred drag queens and other stage artists, who had built Facebook profiles around their performance names, had their accounts deactivated after they were reported for using monikers other than their birth names. The move instantly created a swell of controversy that resulted in a face-to-face meeting on Sept. 17 between Facebook executives (including LGBT employees) and San Francisco activists, friends and queens (some of whom attended in full make-up).

That meeting did nothing to change policy, however a follow-up meeting, held Wednesday morning at company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., produced results. Facebook, which won't officially change the policy, promises to enhance enforcement of the policy as well as evaluate tools, customer service and technical solutions to prevent this type of situation from repeating. 

Facebook vp product Chris Cox announced the policy update on Facebook, posting: "I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we've put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks. In the two weeks since the real-name policy surfaced, we've had the chance to hear from many of you in these communities and understand the policy more clearly as you experience it. We've also come to understand how painful this has been. We owe you a better service and a better experience using Facebook, and we're going to fix the way this policy gets handled so everyone affected here can go back to using Facebook as you were."

Cox admitted that the accounts were flagged in the first place by an individual who was specifically targeting the group of performers. "We've had this policy for over 10 years, and until recently it's done a good job of creating a safe community without inadvertently harming groups like what happened here," read his post.

At the forefront of the fight was Sister Roma of San Franscisco drag troupe Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Sister Roma, who had been actively gathering support for performers on Facebook, Twitter and via petition, was mentioned in Cox's explanation. "The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma, that's Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that's Lil Miss Hot Mess ... we support both of these individuals, and so many others affected by this, completely and utterly in how they use Facebook."

Reached by phone on Wednesday afternoon, Roma told The Hollywood Reporter that she was "overjoyed." "I'm really grateful they sat down and listened to our concerns and addressed them," said Roma. "They didn't apologize for the policy but they apologized for the way the LGBT community was affected. They realized that they needed to evaluate their policy of what a real name is. ... And now, they will be giving users a chance to contest any claims that are submitted to prove that they are who they say they are."

David Campos, who sits on San Francisco's Board of Supervisors and had been a vocal supporter of Roma and other performers, responded to Wednesday's news on Facebook. "The drag queens spoke and Facebook listened!" he wrote. "We have their commitment that they will be making substantive changes soon, and we have every reason to believe them."

The news will likely sit well with RuPaul, who recently voiced concern to THR about the policy. "It's bad policy when Facebook strips the rights of creative individuals who have blossomed into something even more fabulous than the name their mama gave them."