Facebook to March in SF Pride Despite Anti-Drag Queen Allegations

Sister Roma of the drag group Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence spoke out against Facebook’s “real name” policy at City Hall in October 2014. (Photo: Isabel Angell/KQED)

When it comes to San Francisco's legendary Pride Parade, tech money talks -- and it's going to call you by your legal name, whether you like it or not.

At least, that's the message drag queens received today, as they learned that Facebook will be allowed to participate as a sponsor in this year's 45th annual Pride celebration (June 27-28). This, despite recent protests over the social networking giant's policy that requires users to go by their real names.

Across the U.S., members of the drag community have decried Facebook's "real name" policy since October of last year, after what activists called a rash of discrimination and targeted flagging of LGBT users.

The policy allows users to anonymously report fellow Facebookers whom they believe to be using a fake name. While the company maintains the protocol is in place to protect users from certain types of fraud, drag performers and other individuals who rely on pseudonyms argue the policy actually has the potential to put users in grave danger. (The Examiner includes "domestic violence survivors, people fleeing stalkers, teachers who want private lives away from their students [and] those transitioning to a different gender" in this group.)

The debate heated up again in recent weeks, as Pride's nine-person board of directors considered banning Facebook from participating in the celebration after all -- a move that would have sent a very clear message about where the city's organized gay community stands on the issue.

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An online petition to ban the company from both San Francisco and New York's pride celebrations has gathered more than 2,000 signatures in under a month.

Instead, after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly called SF Pride Board President Gary Virginia, the Pride board has voted 5-4 to allow the tech giant to march in the parade.

SF Weekly has a full record of the minutes from a May 17 Pride board meeting, including this question from board member Jesse Oliver Sanford:  "What does it say if all it takes is a 15-minute phone call from Zuckerberg for Pride to sell out our own community?"

"I feel like the Pride board was duped by Facebook," Sister Roma, a prominent San Francisco drag queen and spokesperson for the group Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, told KQED today. "They falsely believed that they can work with them to reach a compromise to this issue. I'm a little disappointed."

Activists have another protest planned for June 1, outside Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park.

Representatives from Facebook apologized after the initial backlash last fall, but since that time have stood by the real-name protocol. The company recently said in a joint statement with SF Pride that Facebook is committed to the "authentic name policy" and has made "significant improvements over the last nine months in the way the policy is enforced." The statement declares: "We look forward to ongoing discussions to make the experience even better for people who use Facebook."

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KQED has reached out to both SF Pride's board of directors and Facebook for comment and will update this story as it develops.

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