On Thursday, a somewhat well-known social media site called Facebook (perhaps you’ve heard of it?), announced an unexpected, but heartening update to its options and settings menu. In a move that has been praised by many LGBTQ and human rights groups, Facebook now allows its users to choose from over 50 different options to set as their gender (provided their main language choice is U.S. English). The options include: female-to-male, androgynous, bigender, and others, such as gender-fluid, neutrois, and two-spirit.
Facebook announced the changes on its diversity page, and said that it had been working closely with its “network of support, a group of leading LGBT advocacy organizations” to ensure that everyone was properly represented in the Facebook cyber world.
Not only can users choose their gender, but they can also choose how Facebook addresses them by deciding which pronoun is used in conjunction with them: him, her, or they. In many ways, the move is ground-breaking. By allowing anyone to express their own gender, whatever that gender may be, Facebook is recognizing some of it users who are most marginalized in the mainstream.
Irene Miller, the president of Toronto Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) told the Toronto Sun: “This will help (youth) feel more confident within themselves and let everyone that they’re in contact with be comfortable in how they address them.”
And while this won’t affect everybody’s Facebook experience, as Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison told the Associated Press: “There’s going to be a lot of people for whom this is going to mean nothing, but for the few it does impact, it means the world.”
Still, while this is all good news it’s important to remember that this change by Facebook comes at a time in Canada where gender identity or expression is not included in the Canadian Human Rights. Bill C-279, which aims to “amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination” is still in consideration before the Canadian Senate.