Drag queens in Facebook name row

Drag queen Cherry Sur Bete Image copyright Les Sterling
Image caption Cherry Sur Bete said he had to change his profile to his real name - or face being locked out

A group of drag queens and transgender performers have called on Facebook to allow stage names rather than real names on the social network.

A petition supporting the change has attracted more than 2,000 signatures.

Facebook told the BBC that its real-name policy was designed to protect the community and increase accountability.

But the group argued that performers should be allowed to use stage names for reasons of "privacy, safety, or preference".

The petition, set up by Seattle-based performer Olivia La Garce, reads: "Although our names might not be our 'legal' birth names, they are still an integral part of our identities, both personally and to our communities.

"These are the names we are known by and call each other and ourselves.

"We build our networks, community, and audience under the names we have chosen, and forcing us to switch our names after years of operating under them has caused nothing but confusion and pain."

Another performer, San Francisco-based Sister Roma, said he was locked out of his account until he used the name Michael Williams. A hashtag #mynameisroma was started to raise awareness of the issue.

'Potential problems'

Drag queen Cherry Sur Bete, who said his profile had also been flagged as breaking the rules, said: "This isn't just a matter for nightlife performers, this is a matter for actors and musicians, as well as folks who have chosen a different name simply to avoid potential stalkers.

"Mental health professionals and victims of abuse frequently use a nickname to avoid problematic interactions. Facebook now effectively hands them over to those potential problems."

Image copyright Les Sterling
Image caption Facebook said the policy was to keep the network's community safer

Facebook has stood firm on the matter, telling the BBC that its real-name policy created a safer environment on the network - and that there were other ways the drag queens could express themselves.

"If people want to use an alternative name on Facebook, they have several different options available to them, including providing an alias under their name on their profile, or creating a Page specifically for that alternative persona.

"As part of our overall standards, we ask that people who use Facebook provide their real name on their profile."

The spokesman added that its strict real-name policy - explained in detail in the site's help section - had meant it was able to help crack down on abusive comments made on the site.

Facebook's Pages is a feature typically used for high profile public figures. It allows people to "like" a person, rather than necessarily become a friend linked through the network.

The performers argue that it is difficult to raise the profile of a Page without paying Facebook money to advertise.

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

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