Finding Allies in Unlikely Places – Native Americans and Drag Queens

Finding Allies in Unlikely Places – Native Americans and Drag Queens

It sounds like the punchline to a bad joke (an Indian man and a busload of drag queens from San Francisco are travelling down the road to a protest), but what began as an unlikely alliance in San Francisco is growing into a powerful voice worldwide.


May 1, broke as a beautiful, misty morning as I travelled to Menlo Park to protest Facebook's’ “real names” policy. The organizers, local drag queens and members of the philanthropist group The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence had graciously invited me to speak on behalf of the local Native American community. Drag queen and local Bay Area Native community member Charlie Ballard was also in attendance in his drag persona and looked fabulous as always.


Shortly after arriving, some of our party stopped to pose and take pictures in front of the infamous Facebook Headquarters sign, which was draped in rainbow colors that day, in honor of the LGBT+ community. After spending about 10 minutes in front of the sign, protesters were politely herded by a member of Menlo Park's finest. The officers were very hands off and professional and one even voiced his approval of our side of the protest; “Just doesn't make sense to me”, he stated, shaking his head.


Media and Press3

The media had assembled nearby and for several minutes, organizers and protesters gave impassioned speeches about how detrimental Facebook's’ seemingly immovable stance on the “real name” policy has been. Several individuals spoke bravely the to traumatic experiences they suffered because they had been exposed to their abusers, after escaping and maintaining their anonymity for years, even decades. Others spoke to their inability to maintain accounts with their real names on account of their high profile (or conversely, controversial) professions. Some even spoke to long estranged family members, deeply religious folks who cannot abide the lifestyles of their kin and who flood their accounts with threatening posts and Biblical (or Koranic) quotes. Regardless of the reason, it is obvious that this policy, however helpful, as Facebook claims, is causing real damage in the lives of the adults who opt in on this public utility. This is not a policy that affects folks in the LGBT+ community with English-sounding surnames; indeed, reports from all over the world from people of vastly different backgrounds have poured into organizers mailboxes pleading for assistance.


FB Protestor

When it was my turn to address the media, I spoke fist to the original occupants of the Menlo Park area (Chochenyo, Tamyen and Ramaytush)and acknowledged that we were all on land stolen from their nations. I then spoke of the Dawes Act of 1887 and the removal of Indian children by the boarding school system. I explained that these children went through the process of delousing and being stripped before having their hair cut and as a last insult, the replacement of their traditional names with Anglo ones. I reminded the crowd assembled there today that our People have existed for tens of thousands of years on this land before Facebook earned its corporate status and that we will still be here with our naming traditions intact long after the Facebook fad has passed. “Our names and traditions hold a power far greater than any algorithm”.


After providing sound bites and interviews to several reporters, it was time to load back onto the tech busses, so kindly provided by Ello and headed back to SF. The vibe on the busses was very positive; people were discussing future plans for the movement and looking forward to planning the next protest and keeping the proverbial disco ball rolling.Ello_bus2

If you are interested in becoming an ally or supporter of those who are experiencing difficulty or trauma from this policy, please feel free to follow us online and in the media under the hashtag #mynameis and #indigenizezuckerberg.

About Samuel White Swan Perkins

Sam White Swan-Perkins is a freelance journalist, the owner of White Swan-Perkins Cultural Consulting and the Co-Founder of Indigenous Support Collaborative NorCal. He resides in occupied Mechoopda Territory, is a powwow singer and member of the Kiowa Gourd Dance Society. Sam is a long time member of the San Francisco Bay Area Two Spirit community. In his free time, he enjoys the outdoors with his girlfriend and their dogs.

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