I’m back with a new ElloDrag Presents! Were you expecting a feature on a drag queen? Gotcha! This is more important, I swear. On Monday, June 1st 2015 I had the honor of attending the protest at Facebook headquarters (on Ello and ElloDrag’s behalf) and I want to tell you all about it!
Let’s start at the beginning: why was there a protest against Facebook to begin with? Facebook has always had a policy that required users to use their legal names on their profiles. Their reason: it creates a safe place for everyone because if you are using your “real” name, you are accountable for all the awful stuff you say to people. It keeps people in check – allegedly!
However, the “real name” policy has been used more as a tool of discrimination and bullying than to help keep Facebook safe. Drag queens and Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence had their accounts shut down in huge numbers after a disgruntled queen in the Pacific Northwest started reporting everyone and their drag mother. However, it wasn’t limited to just them (or should I say, us). Members of the trans community, Native Americans with non-Anglo sounding names, sex workers and those in the kink community, young LGBT folks in dangerously anti-gay countries and even domestic abuse survivors hiding under assumed names all became victims of this policy.
“Why not just leave Facebook?” you may ask. Trust me, I’ve had that question posed to me more times than I can count (and if I only had a DOLLAR for every time, I’d be…well, I could buy a couple dresses). Here is the bottom line: as much as I wish it were different, Facebook has a monopoly on social media. It’s where most of the world is connected online and to leave it means to cut yourself off from your social circle…a circle that would be psychologically devastating for many to go without. That’s just the nature of the world we live in now.
Last September, a group of drag queens, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and other community members rallied together and took this issue right to Facebook’s doors. They had many meetings and Facebook seemed open to changing the policy, allowing people to use their “authentic names”, which for Sister Roma (head of the fight) would be Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess (another leader of the movement), it would be Lil Miss Hot Mess. The team worked directly with Facebook to restore thousands of profiles that had been given the ax (mine included). Almost everyone believed Facebook was on our side and committed to changing this policy so that all could use Facebook under whatever identity they chose.
Needless to say, they lied.
THE RISE OF ELLO
Due to their inaction and the further shutting down of profiles (by the droves), the original team that lead the discussions decided to protest Facebook headquarters. They created a campaign (#MyNameIs) and rallied their troops. Thousands were expected to descend on Menlo Park.
This is where I come in…but there’s a backstory.
Ello, a social media platform that – unlike Facebook – does not have ads, sell your data, use algorithms to determine what content you see or force you to use your “real name”, had a meteoric rise after the first set of discussions with Facebook. They gained millions of users within days, crashing their servers and forcing them to only allow sign-ups by invite. I immediately joined the site and really loved what they stood for.
When they started rolling out micro-communities (for any interest you can dream of), I reached out and asked to lead one on drag (where I could educate the masses on all things drag and promote the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence). They immediately jumped at the suggestion and I’ve been working with them ever since (with, mind you – not for…I’m not on the payroll).
When I heard that there would be another protest, I tipped Ello off (so they could capitalize on the publicity and get more sign-ups…and to promote ElloDrag, the community I lead). They countered with a suggestion: how about I go up to the protest and cover it on their behalf? So we decided that I would use Periscope, Twitter and ElloDrag to bring people behind the scenes of the protest and give a perspective that no other media outlet could or would get. There would also be a documentarian following us around, interviewing us for a film to be released later. I’d also have a photographer to shadow me and capture the entire experience!
Needless to say, I said yes.
The day of the protest began early…like 5 am early. My homegurl Novice
Sister Kristian d’Aura (who was also part of the #MyNameIs team) met me at my hotel at 6:30 am and we commenced to beating our faces within an inch of their lives. I mean, come on, this was going to be a media circus…we had to look our best! Daytime typically isn’t very kind to dragoons but we believed in the power of makeup and ended up looking INCREDIBLE, if I do say so myself (and I do…I really do)!
We ventured over to the meeting place (Safeway parking lot on Market & Church) and waited for the masses to converge. We were also waiting for two buses that Ello chartered (with their logos and the message NO REAL NAMES REQUIRED slapped on the sides, to boot). I didn’t do a headcount but there was over a hundred people waiting to board the buses and give Facebook HELL.
We departed around 10:00 am and arrived to Facebook headquarters at 11:00 am. We pulled up right in
front of their offices in our Ello buses (tee hee) and were promptly escorted over to an area where protesting was allowed…but not before we gathered for a group photo around their huge Facebook sign (which was rainbow-colored in an attempt to show solidarity with the LGBT community).
The media swarmed around us. There were representatives from all the major channels as well as a photographer from CNN. I stood next to Sister Roma, who was “hosting” the protest and introducing all the speakers. Most people thought that only drag queens were impacted by this policy. The speakers (a trans activist, a domestic violence survivor, a Native American, a dominatrix representing the kink community and sex workers, even someone from the San Francisco Pride board) showed otherwise. However, per usual, drag queens are at the forefront of the fight. What can I say – we have big personalities and even bigger mouths!
Of all the speakers, the one that touched me the most was trans activist Sadaisha Shimmers. Her words were powerful, strong and honest and it really drove home for me that this really was bigger than just drag queens and Sisters. This policy was really hurting people.
The protest lasted an hour. It was such a whirlwind! Before I knew it, we were back on the buses ready to head back to San Francisco. After being dropped off where began only a few hours before, a large group of us made our way over to Café Flore (a Sister-owned establishment near The Castro). We had celebratory drinks, food and also had our interviews with the documentarian. We were spent! You’d think I pushed the buses myself.
It was a marathon day, which I’m still recovering from. This is what Almost 40 looks like, children!
What will come of our protest (which was broadcast all over the country and picked up all over the world)? Who knows…but my days at Facebook are numbered. I’m literally 4 game requests and 2 passive aggressive memes away from deleting my profile. How about you? Do you plan to leave Facebook over their “real names” policy? Have you checked out Ello (who is releasing their app in a couple weeks)? Did you see the coverage of the protest? Did I look gorgeous or what? Leave a comment below!
Sidebar: Ello declared June 1st ElloPride day to celebrate the LGBT community. Such sweeties!
Your Homegurl for Life,