Last week we showed you the vaguely worded joint press release that was issued by the SF Pride board of directors and Facebook in advance of a June 1 protest that's set to revive the controversy over Facebook's "authentic names" policy a debate that's been going on since a wave of SF drag queens lost access to their accounts last fall and started a subsequent national shitstorm. In the wake of that, local drag queen and #MyNameIs activist Lil Miss Hot Mess wrote into SFist to point out that the SF Pride board had held a special meeting on May 17 to debate the possibility of refusing Facebook sponsorship and banning them from the parade this year but after posting the meeting minutes publicly, as they're obligated to do when not in closed session, they were then pulled down, perhaps to avoid stirring controversy.
The minutes have since made the rounds via people who downloaded copies while they were still public, and the Examiner takes up the story today in particular because the minutes reveal that CEO Mark Zuckerberg made personal phone calls to board president Gary Virginia and perhaps one other person to encourage them not to take a stand and ban the company's employees from the parade.
In the end, the vote was quite close, 5-4, and perhaps could have been deadlocked had one board member calling in via Skype not lost his connection before the vote took place.
Some may recall that several new, more progressive-minded board members were elected to the SF Pride board in 2013 in a somewhat dramatic coup, and it was this progressive bloc who were arguing for punishing Facebook or at least holding them more accountable for explaining how they plan to protect LGBTQ people when it comes to bullying and account suspensions over having "authentic names."
The main gripe now is that Facebook issued an apology in October and a pledge to change their policy to protect LGBTQ individuals and others who have strong cases for maintaining alternate identities on the Facebook platform. However nearly nine months later they've failed to concretize or clarify this policy. Facebook, meanwhile, maintains that they need to keep their existing reporting policy in place in order to keep everyone on Facebook safe from abuse, identity theft, etc.
Below, a few snippets in particular from vocal SF Pride board member Jesse Oliver Sanford.
5/17/15 Special Meeting Minutes held at 1PM in the San Francisco Pride office Called by Justin, Jose and Oliver
A credible rumor from someone involved with FB’s internal work on this is that internally at FB there is support for a policy to collect the identification of users with pseudonyms but continue to allow them to use the pseudonyms creating accountability for actions of pseudonym profiles, and that this is the main suggestion favored by FB employees themselves as far as we know. This is the “alternate names” proposal which seems like the reasonable compromise.
While Facebook has an exemplary record on human rights, the things they do for our community largely benefit the most privileged, people like their employees. Pride also has an obligation to the most marginalized, to trans people, people of color, those without the class privilege of a Facebook employee. Our obligation is not to treat all contingents equally, as though there could ever be equality between Facebook and a grassroots activist group! Our obligation is educate the world, liberate our people and help drive the LGBT movement forward.
Since Gary mentioned it at the Tuesday meeting, advocates know that Mark Zuckerberg has been on the phone with us even though he apparently has not directly communicated with either City Hall or any of the other advocates, social actors, or stakeholders, pushing for changes in this policy. What does it say if all it takes is a 15-minute phone call from Zuckerberg for Pride to sell out our own community?
Several board members wondered whether the "real-name" policy rises to the level of other anti-gay corporations like Coors who have been traditionally boycotted by the SF gay community. Board vice-president Marsha Levine argued that "This is their employee resource group in the parade. Employee Resource Groups are bottom-up and often advocate for LGBT causes within their corporations, so we shouldn’t conflate them with the corporations."
The contract for Facebook's sponsorship of the parade had not yet been signed, and it was agreed that the joint press release would be released prior to that signing. Sanford continued to argue that Facebook needed to comply with the demands of the #MyNameIs coalition or else be held accountable.
Board member Chandra Redack argued for this as well. "Instead of giving [Facebook] the benefit of the doubt, can we provide our community the benefit of the doubt and have [Facebook] change before letting them in instead of letting them in and believing they’ll change."
But, finally, the motion passed, but not before board member Jose Cital noted that all four of the younger board members were opposed. "Everyone under 40 opposes the Facebook sponsorship," he said. " If we aren’t here to take a stand, why are we even doing this? I don’t care about raising money for a party, I care about making a difference."
The June 1 protest is still proceeding as planned, with drag queen Sister Roma encouraging all those with and without cars to gather at the Castro Safeway parking lot at 9 a.m. Monday morning to head down to Facebook's Menlo Park headquarters. Says Roma today, "It kills me to see so many people locked out of their profiles and reaching out for help... [But] It's not my job, it's Facebook's job."
Also, it should be noted, Facebook rival Ello is sponsoring the bus taking those without cars down to the Menlo Park protest.
Previously: Facebook And SF Pride Issue Joint Statements About 'Real Name' Policy
Drag Queens Renew Fight Over Facebook 'Real Name' Policy, Demand That Company Be Banned From Pride Parades
Facebook Issues Mea Culpa To Drag Queens And Others Over 'Real Name' Policy [Updated]