MENLO PARK —
Masen Davis, executive director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, said it may be hard for some people to understand the importance of having the ability to select from multiple genders online. But he said many transgender people will be thrilled with the change.
"We applaud Facebook for making it possible for people to be their authentic selves online," he said.
In the past decade, the transgender movement has become much more organized and outspoken, demanding the kind of civil rights and respect already sought by gay activists. During this time, the transgender umbrella has been growing well beyond transsexuals to encompass a wide variety of gender identities.
The move by Facebook came after years of lobbying from users, some who started Facebook pages to petition for the change. Google+ offers male, female and "other" as choices, but transgender advocates said Facebook's many specific options puts the platform well ahead of any other online community. About 1 percent of Google+ users identify as other.
"I love that I can choose Gender Neutral," said Debon Garrigues of Asheville, N.C., who is transitioning from female to male. "I'm going to change it immediately."
Garrigues also appreciated the opportunity to change pronoun preferences.
The idea of expanding gender choices percolated at Facebook for about a year and started to come to fruition during an in-house brainstorming four months ago, project manager Lexi Ross said.
Transgender activist Nori Herras-Castaneda, a spokeswoman for the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center in San Jose, said her community has been waiting for this to happen for a long time.
"We always talk about how gender is a spectrum," she said. "I can see a lot of people being extremely happy about this."