This year’s Pride celebrations come at a time when the LGBTQ+ community is under attack again. Not only was there the passage of Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill this spring, but there have been more than 230 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in state legislatures, all with the aim of somehow “protecting” children from the growing visibility and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.
To combat this new political assault, there are ways that we as communicators can work to prevent backsliding on the deeply important issue of LGBTQ+ rights. I’ve put together a list of five strategies communicators can use to avoid this and keep us moving forward:
Start With Why
This is a classic PR principle from Simon Sinek’s 2009 required-reading book of the same name. The idea is that arguments on hot button issues are more effectively made when you frame the issue first with the question “why?” This primes your brain to believe there’s a real need to address that issue. So in this case, the “why” is that everyone deserves equal rights. And backsliding on that will cause real damage to society in general and LGBTQ+ people specifically. But it’s important to address the why first and then outline the steps for action after.
Make a Human Case
In winning over hearts and minds, the key to victory is person-to-person communication. It’s especially vital with issues that may have higher resistance or are seen as “controversial.” In the case of the broad concept of LGBTQ+ rights, it's essential to make a very specific human case. By telling the stories of real people, you can take the sting out of the issue in general and focus instead on the reality of how this can affect an individual. Gay marriage was won on the legal merits but also because public opionon changed over time, largely because of incredible personal stories like that of Edith Windsor.
Focus on Universal Values
When talking about this issue, it's important to explain that LGBTQ+ rights are deeply rooted in universal values that anyone can align themselves with. You have to connect that LGBTQ+ rights are really about love, family, justice and, most importantly, equality. While some people may consider LGBTQ+ rights a strange or even foreign concept, if you can show that it's in line with these universal values that anyone can relate to, then you’ve made progress. While some may object for moral or religious reasons, you have to show that you’re rooting for accepted and incontrovertible American values, especially equality.
Create a Permission Structure
When LGBTQ+ rights are painted as controversial, you must create a permission structure that helps those who oppose them find their way to the other side of the issue without feeling they are crossing boundaries. Especially for those who might be on the fence, a permission structure helps them come to the right side of the issue without feeling they are being forced to do so. Part of this means not trying to attack those on the other side of this issue—that kind of aggressive behavior only gives them an out. But if they are given the right information (like those human stories) and are allowed to make up their minds on their own without being berated into doing it, you can ultimately get the message across.
Avoid False Equivalency
Finally, and this is a big one, don’t let the media create false equivalency with one side vs. the other. While journalists are inclined to tell both sides of the story as if they are equally powerful, let’s not forget the reality that the vast majority of the public supports this cause. Today, nearly 80 percent of Americans favor laws that protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodations. Almost 70 percent support same-sex marriage, up considerably from 54 percent in 2014. This is a very lopsided debate, so presenting it as two sides with equal weight—and allowing the media to get away with that presentation—is not just counterproductive, it’s simply not supported by reality.
Despite what may have felt like the end of gay history with the passage of marriage equality in 2015, the struggle for true LGBTQ+ equality goes on. By using these five strategies, we can continue to advocate, push forward, and help to fight for equal rights and keep the vocal minority from winning on this crucial issue for all of us.
Alex Slater is the founder and CEO of Clyde Group, a mid-sized PR and marketing firm based in Washington, DC.