Facebook offers new gender options for users

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 13, 2014 at 5:36 pm •  Published: February 13, 2014
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Masen Davis, executive director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, said it may be hard for some people to understand the importance of having the ability to select from multiple genders online. But he said many transgender people will be thrilled with the change.

"We applaud Facebook for making it possible for people to be their authentic selves online," he said.

In the past decade, the transgender movement has become much more organized and outspoken, demanding the kind of civil rights and respect already sought by gay activists. During this time, the transgender umbrella has been growing well beyond transsexuals to encompass a wide variety of gender identities.

The move by Facebook came after years of lobbying from users, some who started Facebook pages to petition for the change. Google+ offers male, female and "other" as choices, but transgender advocates said Facebook's many specific options puts the platform well ahead of any other online community. About 1 percent of Google+ users identify as other.

"I love that I can choose Gender Neutral," said Debon Garrigues of Asheville, N.C., who is transitioning from female to male. "I'm going to change it immediately."

Garrigues also appreciated the opportunity to change pronoun preferences.

The idea of expanding gender choices percolated at Facebook for about a year and started to come to fruition during an in-house brainstorming four months ago, project manager Lexi Ross said.

Transgender activist Nori Herras-Castaneda, a spokeswoman for the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center in San Jose, said her community has been waiting for this to happen for a long time.

"We always talk about how gender is a spectrum," she said. "I can see a lot of people being extremely happy about this."

At this point, Facebook targets advertising according to male or female genders. For those who change to something neutral, ads will be targeted based on the pronoun they select for themselves. Unlike getting engaged or married, changing gender is not registered as a "life event" on the site and won't post on timelines. Therefore, Facebook said advertisers cannot target ads to those who declare themselves transgender or recently changed their gender.

Users also can select "neither" or "other" and separately indicate whether they want to be referred to as he, she or they.

Facebook came up with its range of terms after consulting with leading gay and transgender activists, and the company plans to continue working with them. Facebook started the options in the U.S. and plans to take it global after working with activists abroad to come up with terms appropriate in other countries.

Herras-Castaneda said she did expect some anger.

"Any time the transgender community makes advances, there is backlash, and this is a very big advance, so yes, we'll face some problems, no doubt," she said.

At Facebook, staffers said the expanded options were never questioned, from CEO Mark Zuckerberg on down.

"Really, there was no debate within Facebook about the social implications at all," said Alex Schultz, director of growth. "It was simple: Not allowing people to express something so fundamental is not really cool so we did something. Hopefully a more open and connected world will, by extension, make this a more understanding and tolerant world."

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Follow Martha Mendoza at https://twitter.com/mendozamartha

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Associated Press Writer Lisa Leff contributed to this story.