Facebook offers more gender identities to users, UALR Alliance says its a step in the right direction
By Kirsten Elliott, contributing writer
UALR students who use the popular social networking site Facebook do not have to identify as strictly “male” or “female” any longer. Users in the United States can now choose from more than 50 new gender options that include more commonly known options such as transgender, as well as more obscure ones such as “gender fluid” and “two-spirit.”
President of The Alliance, Zack Baker, said that while the change could lead to chances for discrimination, overall he saw the change as a positive. The Alliance is UALR’s student organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students.
“The cool thing is that if somebody does not wish to have their gender on display to anybody but their friends, they can choose that, so you can customize the whole thing,” Baker said.
According to a 2013 UALR campus diversity study that asked students to identify themselves as male, female, or transgender, only 0.3% of UALR’s student body identified as transgender. However, at least 3% of students stated that they had been treated unfairly at UALR because of their gender identity.
In addition, 33% of students indicated that issues of gender identity should be considered when UALR deals with diversity issues. However, the survey did not provide further explanation of what that meant.
Facebook’s new gender option is an attempt to let each user authentically represent himself or herself, according to a post on the company’s website. “An important part of this is the expression of gender, especially when it extends beyond the definitions of just ‘male’ or ‘female,’” it said.
The new options come at a time when the push for LGBT rights and marriage equality is ripe in the United States. In 2013 seven states successfully passed laws permitting same-sex marriage.
In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional—a decision which provided federal recognition to same-sex marriages. According to the act, individual states could refuse to recognize same-sex marriages. In addition, Section 3 stated that individuals involved in same-sex marriages could not be recognized as “spouses,” and thus were not entitled to federal marriage benefits.
“I would say that the current political climate is really giving a push to a lot of companies to make things more inclusive of LGBT people,” Baker said.
However, Baker said that some of the new gender options seemed redundant. “If you type in like the word ‘male’ you’ll see that there is male to female on there, but then they also have an option that is MTF which is the same thing,” he said.
The chair of the UALR College Republicans, Aaron Lazenby, agreed. “I think they’re trying too hard to be politically correct,” he said.
Despite this, some argue that the variety of choices offered by Facebook is a good thing. Randi Wilson, a member of The Alliance, agreed. “I’ve met a lot of trans people and they identify in very specific ways, and it’s good to have those specific things,” she said.