APNewsBreak: New gender options for Facebook users

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In this Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison demonstrates expanded options for gender identification at her company’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. Harrison, who helped engineer the project, plans to switch her identifier to “Trans Woman.” (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

In this Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison demonstrates expanded options for gender identification at her company’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. Harrison, who helped engineer the project, plans to switch her identifier to “Trans Woman.” (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

This screen shot released by Facebook shows the new gender option screen. Facebook is adding a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them. Facebook said the changes being rolled out Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, for the company’s 159 million monthly users in the U.S. are aimed at giving gender nonconforming people the opportunity to be transparent about who they really are, whether that’s androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender fluid or transsexual. (AP Photo/Facebook)

This screen shot released by Facebook shows the new gender option screen. Facebook is adding a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them. Facebook said the changes being rolled out Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, for the company’s 159 million monthly users in the U.S. are aimed at giving gender nonconforming people the opportunity to be transparent about who they really are, whether that’s androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender fluid or transsexual. (AP Photo/Facebook)

This screen shot released by Facebook shows the new gender option screen. Facebook is adding a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them. Facebook said the changes being rolled out Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, for the company’s 159 million monthly users in the U.S. are aimed at giving gender nonconforming people the opportunity to be transparent about who they really are, whether that’s androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender fluid or transsexual. (AP Photo/Facebook)

This screen shot released by Facebook shows the new gender option screen. Facebook is adding a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them. Facebook said the changes being rolled out Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, for the company’s 159 million monthly users in the U.S. are aimed at giving gender nonconforming people the opportunity to be transparent about who they really are, whether that’s androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender fluid or transsexual. (AP Photo/Facebook)

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MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) — You don’t have to be just male or female on Facebook anymore. The social media giant is adding a customizable option with about 50 different 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 launch on Thursday, initially cover the company’s 159 million monthly users in the U.S. 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 herself undergoing gender transformation, from male to female. On Thursday, while watchdogging the software for any problems, she said she was also 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 1.15 billion active monthly users around the world, also allows them to keep their gender identity private and will continue to do so.

The change to the gender selection option is seen as a major step toward acceptance for people who don’t self-identify as male or female, but the high-profile development seemed senseless to those who believe in two genders, no more.

“Of course Facebook is entitled to manage its wildly popular site as it sees fit, but here is the bottom line: It’s impossible to deny the biological reality that humanity is divided into two halves – male and female,” said Jeff Johnston, an issues analyst for Focus on the Family, an influential national religious organization based in Denver. “Those petitioning for the change insist that there are an infinite number of genders, but just saying it doesn’t make it so. That said, we have a great deal of compassion for those who reject their biological sex and believe they are the opposite sex.”

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

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