Leone Kraus

'Equality' is My Middle Name: A Look at One of Facebook's Most Simple and Effective Uses

Filed By Leone Kraus | August 31, 2010 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Kraus Notes, Leone Kraus, LGBT social media, Nadine Smith

We've all seen them in our Facebook friend networks, the friends who have 'Equality' as their middle name, such as Joe Equality Smith or Jane Equality Doe.

The other night, I was scouring Facebook for blog ideas and came across the fan pageScreen shot 2010-08-30 at 7.20.37 PM.png '"Equality" is My Middle Name.' I was pleased to discover that all the 'Equality' Facebook middle naming was part of an actual campaign. What a simple, yet powerful way that the LGBT community and our allies can use social media to show support in winning full equality. With over 3,000 fans, the fan age has proven to be an effective tool used to spread the equality message.

Check out my interview with fellow Bilerico contributor Nadine Equality Smith, the creator of '"Equality is My Middle Name," after the jump.

1. When and how did the idea of "Equality is my middle name" come about?

I added it to my middle name because there are a few Nadine Smiths on Facebook and I figured it would make me easier to find. It had a fascinating effect. Family members, old high school friends, people I knew outside of activism would ask me about it and the conversations were always fascinating. It gave a few people the opportunity to come out as LGB or T. But mostly, it gave acquaintances a chance to let me know they were pro-equality. In the lead up to the National Equality March I was focused on the things people could do if they weren't going to DC. It took off from there and suddenly I was overwhelmed with emails and IMs from people who have changed their name.

2. What was your goal for the campaign?

I had hoped people would have the same experience I had friends, family and old acquaintances using the name change as an invitation to conversation. Straight friends of mine began adopting it as a show of solidarity. Then they started commenting on LGBT related blogs. It seemed to give people permission to be more visible allies. Facebook is such a shared national campfire. We share stories and jokes and the big things that matter as well. I wanted to make this part of people's everyday life.

3. Do you have access to any Facebook stats that illustrate how many people have participated in the campaign?

I have no idea how many people changed their middle name to Equality. It definitely has a life of its own. I got an IM from a student who said more than 50,000 people had added Equality as their middle name about a month into the effort. I don't know how to verify or track that. I do know that there are now many, many more permutations of the idea. People are making their organization or personal slogan their middle name.

4. How did you use social media to promote the campaign? Was it just through Facebook or did you leverage other platforms like blogs or Twitter?

Word spread first through the Facebook group and through an event. Then it seemed to hit a tipping point. On my friends list overnight, half the people had added "Equality". It was reposted many times over but I think the reason it took off was because people were making it part of their name and every post they made took the idea viral.

Click here to join the '"Equality' is My Middle Name" campaign.


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Interesting that you bring this up, Leone. As a trans woman, I've noticed a large number of people with "equality" as their FB middle name who, in fact, are extremely ignorant and even dismissive of the equality of trans and gender variant people. So... equality for who? What does equality mean in this instance and what would it look like?

To my mind, 'equality' when used in this vague way is about as deep as the HRC Equality Bumper Sticker which, from my viewpoint, is a sign of shallowness and glibness when it comes to examining genuine issues social, economic and political equality. Guess what, just because someone wears a peace symbol does mean they actually have thought (much less worked) towards disarmament or protesting military buildups and incursions. So... social networking big time fail.

Correction(s):

"comes to examining genuine issues OF social, economic, and..."

"wears a peace symbol does NOT mean they actually..."

gotta wake up. :-

Hi GinaSF,

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I understand that simply adding 'Equality' to your middle name on Facebook offers little to instantly propel the movement. However, I think it is a great way to bring awareness to others who may not have given much thought to idea. It also gives supporters an additional platform to get involved and spread their message of support.

According to Nadine, the campaign was going strong last year for the NEM. It's died down a bit since then. I'm hoping this blog will bring awareness back to the campaign.

I know you think this is a social media ‘fail’ but I couldn't disagree more. I think this is a huge win. People, like me, are still working and sampling different ways that we can use social media to further our cause. Sometimes it may be something as simple as adding "Equality" to our middle name to make a statement but other times it may be as big as starting a Fan Page like The Bilerico Project's to further educate about the importance of equality. Either way, even though both are different in regards to their social media strategy, both are the same in uniting to further LGBT equality.

Leone,
I agree that this is a win rather than a "big time fail". Anytime we can have a conversation on LGBT issues is a win. If it takes cutesy gimmicks like Equality is my middle name to do that, I am all for it. For some people who do not feel skilled at taking a more activist and advanced approach (or just don't want to), this is a basic step. Ultimately, Which is better? Doing something small like this that increases visibility or doing nothing?

Erik... In fairness I didn't say doing nothing was an alternative. But there are countless other sites on Facebook you can "like" which will bring up far more discussion (and linking to real activist resources) than having equality as your middle name. Do a FB search for gay transgender or GLBT and page after page will magically appear. Just typing "I support same-sex marriage" in your status line will create a lot more ripples than the highly abstract term "equality" which, in effect, means nothing.

And to some other posters on this thread: Please don't think that just because people read trans/queer blogs that they aren't also involved in 3D activism... that's an arrogant and incorrect assumption.

Nadine Smith Nadine Smith | August 31, 2010 4:16 PM

I think the chief benefit of this social media action is to provoke dialogue some hostile, most very, good. Old high school friends, family members who would never have broached the topic feel invited to ask what it means.

In any event, it is out there for folks to make of it what they will.

I'm drawn to the things that make people interact with their personal network more authentically. I think their is an impulse to make this work less personal. I've done protests, gotten arrested, worked in the system, outside the system. I see value in different tools at different times. But for me, the most lasting and profound changes have come in talking honestly to the people I know or encounter.

Coming out to a guy on a plane only to discover he thinks he daughter is gay but he doesn't know how to raise the topic.

Telling a family member his joke was in poor taste and hurtful to me and my wife and seeing him finally get it. Or moving a legislator by causing him to see the contradiction between the values he espouses and the harm he allows to be done to LGBT people.

I want there to be more ways for us to talk beyond the polarization. Sometimes it is unavoidable. Sometimes they come for us with such malice that we have to be defended. But mostly I think our challenge is to live as if full equality is here and we fully expect people and the law to behave accordingly.

Most of the people with whom one might have a "complex" dialog with on these subjects have no idea what "equality" means when used in that context. Is it so hard to put "I support same sex marriage" in your FB status line? Or to say, "someone being fired or discriminated against at their job because of their gender expression/identity is just wrong!"

Instead, they can do an innocuous, smiley-faced analog like "equality" and keep the good vibes going while avoiding any real difficult discourse on what equality means.

Again, I refuse to respect someone's use of the term "equality" if they have little understanding of how many trans/gender variant people are mostly excluded from those initiatives. There's a difference between 'feel good' and obliviousness.

I know you're frustrated. If it means anything, I volunteer with an LGBT civil rights lobby group in New York state. We are working hard (and have been for some time) to pass GENDA (Gender Equality None Discrimination Act). I am someone who works hard for full equality rights and who also sports 'Equality' in my middle name. I'm sure there are others out there who are like me.

It's a social networking site and Nadine Smith clearly explains what she hoped for. She also acknowledges that with such sites that things can take on a life of their own. Yeah, some people probably put "equality" in their names without fully understanding what such a word can or should entail. Some might even argue that use of that word is too limited if someone only intends it for LGBT issues. And I suppose some people might do it as a way to mock the whole concept. I mean, it's Facebook and that medium will and can only do so much. I like the fact that Nadine tried this and got some positive results while using FACEBOOK.

I'm a trans activist and GinaSF's bitterness and arrogance does not speak for me. I'll be changing my facebook name and I'll encourage other trans activists to do like wise. Thanks for such a common sense thing that costs nothing to help educate the masses.

Thanks for taking the time to comment Allison. Personally, I feel that every little bit counts in our fight for full equality. I'm glad to hear that you will be spreading the word.

I think this is one of those things that's OK so long as it doesn't distract people from taking real action, that is, "I put equality as my middle name! I'm so awesome!" sort of thing.

But I won't be doing it myself. "Equality" is a concept more complicated than bumper stickers (that's what this is an online version of) that should be discussed instead of allowed to become a mindless mantra.

When someone involved in real activism like Nadine does it, it makes sense, but others... well... maybe they should be more worried about finding out what "equality" means instead of using it as a middle name. In my podcasted conversation with Kip Williams last year I asked repeatedly what "equality" meant to him, and he was unable to explain it in any concrete terms. I think that's something we should be dealing with, when not even our leaders know what our oft-repeated goal means.

Anyway, great interview and thanks for this post, Leone. I didn't know where that meme started.

I think this is one of those things that's OK so long as it doesn't distract people from taking real action...

You mean like reading blog post after blog post @ Bilerico & other lgbt blogs? ;)