The Internet Movie Database has been fighting with LGBTQ advocacy groups over the issue of trans actors’ birth names for quite a while. Now, thankfully, they are backing down.
Ask any transgender person and they will tell you: getting away from your birth name is hard. Hell, ask me — I’ve certainly had my fair share of troubles with it. My bank let me change my name, but Paypal refused. The magazines I subscribe to have my correct name, but Amazon doesn’t. And when I get spam texts from political campaigns on my phone, as I do multiple times per day (I’ve definitely had occasion to regret volunteering for the Obama campaign in 2008), they always, without fail, use a name I’m very uncomfortable with being called.
This kind of thing is even more of an issue when you’re in the public eye. Transgender actors are in a particularly good position to know this, and that’s been a big reason for the push by GLAAD and other LGBTQ advocacy groups against IMDb’s policy of publishing trans actors’ birth names, also known as their deadnames, as part of their database, without the consent of the actors involved.
Thankfully, IMDb has finally seen the light. According to a statement made to Variety by the online database, which (like many things) is owned by Amazon: “IMDb now permits the removal of birth names if the birth name is not broadly publicly known and the person no longer voluntarily uses their birth name.”
The site still requires that actors or their representatives request edits to their page and go through an approval process, but this is at least a step in the right direction, and helps bring the site closer to the standard set by websites like Wikipedia and Biography.com, which do not publish transgender people’s deadnames without consent.
Multiple high-profile transgender actors are affected by this policy, including Orange Is The New Black star Laverne Cox, who has called deadnaming “the ultimate insult.”
“If that were to happen to me, obviously I’d be horrified,” trans actor Jake Graf told IndieWire back in April. Graf, who transitioned before beginning his film career, called the previous IMDb policy on birth names “an infringement of privacy,” and said, “It seems like you’re outing someone. On so many levels, it seems wrong.”
Unfortunately, actors who’ve been credited under their deadnames at some point in the past will still be unable to get that name removed from their IMDb profiles. Those actors’ deadnames will appear in parentheses next to their current names. “This is in order to continue providing IMDb’s hundreds of millions of customers worldwide with comprehensive information about film and TV credits, thereby preserving the factual historical record by accurately reflecting what is listed on-screen,” IMDb’s representative told Variety.
While this policy is somewhat understandable, it remains less than ideal. “To reveal a transgender person’s birth name without their explicit permission is an invasion of privacy that only serves to undermine the trans person’s true authentic identity, and can put them at risk for discrimination, even violence,” GLAAD director of trans representation Nick Adams told the New York Times in June.
There is still plenty of progress to be made on this issue. However, for many trans actors, there will soon be one less place that calls them a name they never want to be called. And that at least is a small victory.