Facebook users, others react to gender options

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 13, 2014 at 9:52 pm •  Published: February 13, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Facebook announced Thursday that its 159 million U.S. users now have dozens of options for completing the gender question on their profiles. The social media giant has been working with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups to expand the choices beyond male and female. The result: a "custom" option that lets users pick from about 50 terms, including transsexual, androgynous and intersex.

The Associated Press asked Facebook users and others for their reactions:

Jay Brown, 35, of Maryland, changed his gender on Facebook to Trans Male on Thursday once the option became available.

"Looking at my Facebook profile, people see photos of my 3- and 5-year-olds, my love for running and that my wife had a birthday yesterday," Brown told the AP. "They saw a dad, a runner, a husband. The 'male' selection was right but it wasn't all there was to me. Today, Facebook is letting me bring more of my identity to the table."

Jeff Johnston, issues analyst for Focus on the Family, an influential national religious organization based in Colorado Springs, Colo., said just because people lobbying for the change say there are an infinite number of options, that's not true.

"Of course Facebook is entitled to manage its wildly popular site as it sees fit, but here is the bottom line: It's impossible to deny the biological reality that humanity is divided into two halves - male and female," Johnston told the AP.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the array of options represents an important cultural shift symbolizing the progress transgender rights activists have made in educating their fellow Americans.

"At a time in which transgender people still face high rates of bullying, disrespect, harassment, and violence, this welcome change is another step in the recognition of transgender and gender non-conforming people. As one of the most visited sites on the Internet, it's a significant sign of progress to have the realities of transgender and gender non-conforming people reflected on the platform.

Chiyerre Echie and Jasmine Jefferson are both 18-year-old freshmen at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Both are from Memphis and say they are occasional users of Facebook.

Interviewed at lunch on campus Thursday afternoon, they said they don't know anyone who is transgender, but they approve of the additional options on Facebook.

"I think it's progressive. It needed to happen since there are so many different options for people nowadays," Jefferson said.

Echie said, "I agree, I guess, if it makes people happy to be able to come out in public and say, 'This is who I am.'"

Shiv Pruthi is a 20-year-old junior at Loyola University in Chicago, says he's been a regular user of Facebook since high school. Speaking from campus Thursday afternoon, Pruthi said he doesn't know anyone who is transgender, but it wouldn't stop him from accepting a Facebook request from someone who identified themselves as something other than male or female.

"I probably would be kind of shocked at first. But if they did choose (a different option to identify themselves by), I would support that. Good for them, not being afraid to put that on a public social interaction site," Pruthi said.

Elizabeth Garcia, 48, of Miami, said that while she has friends who might want to use one of the new gender options, she wishes Facebook had left the choices at male and female.

"I think it's too much," Garcia said while walking with her daughter (who doesn't mind the change). "It doesn't bother me what people are or do, but they want to give too much information."

Selecting the word "transgender" in a dropdown box isn't quite so simple for some trans people, who may prefer to continue using the "male" or "female" designation, said Carrie Davis, 54, who works at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City.

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