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Facebook rolls out new gender choices

| Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

MENLO PARK, Calif. — You don't have to be just male or female on Facebook anymore. The social media giant has added a customizable option with about 50 terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them.

Facebook said the changes, shared with The Associated Press before the introduction on Thursday, initially cover the company's 159 million monthly users in America and are aimed at giving people more choices in how they describe themselves, such as androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender fluid or transsexual.

“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,” said Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison, who worked on the project and is undergoing gender transformation, from male to female. On Thursday, while watchdogging the software for any problems, she said she is changing her Facebook identity from Female to TransWoman.

“All too often, transgender people like myself and other gender-nonconforming people are given this binary option: Do you want to be male or female? What is your gender? And it's kind of disheartening because none of those let us tell others who we really are,” she said. “This really changes that, and for the first time I get to go to the site and specify to all the people I know what my gender is.”

Facebook, which has 1.23 billion active monthly users around the world, allows them to keep gender identity private and will continue to do so.

The Williams Institute, a think tank based at the University of California, Los Angeles, estimates there are at least 700,000 individuals in this country who identify as transgender, an umbrella term that includes people who live as a gender different from the one assigned to them at birth.

The change at Facebook drew dozens of appreciative postings on the company's diversity website, although there were some pointing out the need to change relationships beyond son and daughter, or asking for sexual orientation options.

The move by Facebook represents a basic and a yet significant form of recognition of the nation's growing transgender rights movement, which has been spurred by veteran activists and young people who identify as transgender at younger ages. The Human Rights Campaign last year found that 10 percent of the 10,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender youths it surveyed used “other” or wrote in their own gender terms.

“Over the past few years, a person's Facebook profile truly has become their online identity, and now Facebook has taken a milestone step to allow countless people to more honestly and accurately represent themselves,” HRC President Chad Griffin said. “Facebook's action is one that I hope others heed in supporting individuals' multifaceted identities.”

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