This week, I came across an illustrated post by one of the WordPress writers I follow, Hannah. In her post, she offers a simple thought about how the transgender community has slowly become noticed in the past decade, this after TGs went invisible in media circles. Hannah states she once believed this notice would have led to an active understanding and acceptance by the cis-gender community…
Unfortunately, as Hannah laments, the transgender community keeps facing roadblocks. Indeed, there are still many in high places who, to quote Hannah in her post, “waste time and money passing laws about where we can go to the bathroom.” Sure enough, lawmakers across the country, from here in Wisconsin to down in Tennessee, have made attempts to advance or at the very least have introduced legislation that restricts the use of public restrooms to a person’s gender at birth. But it’s not just the transgender community that’s been the specific targets of these laws: States such as North Carolina and Mississippi have enacted laws that give businesses free reign to discriminate against the LGBT community based on their moral beliefs — all in the name of ensuring “religious freedom.”
When one witnesses all these legislative roadblocks being erected against LGBTs, it’s easy to notice the turning point: Last June’s U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing marriage between those of the same gender. Once gays and lesbians earned that right, the attention turned to laws ensuring that those would not be discriminated based on not just sexual orientation but gender identity. But with that irresistible force came the unmovable objects that are conservative activists, religious groups, and the lawmakers who listen to them. Oh, sure, these “religious freedom” bills have been around longer than the past year (21 states since 1993 have enacted these “religious freedom restoration” laws), but the resistance has really been noticeable since last June.
I can’t help but think that all these anti-LGBT laws are the product of the fear of change among morally traditional conservatives. It’s not just the fear of change but the quick pace of change as well; I mean, the pace of the LGBT community’s advancements are a complete 180-degree turn from the glacial preference of those who think moral traditions are eroding. With such a vocal viewpoint comes those who seek to curry favor, i.e. the lawmakers who are just as conservative as their voting base… or who at the very least are afraid that any little move they make could be perceived as alienating the voters, talk radio hosts, and think tank opinionists who got them elected.
All of that fear, however, is generated by one thing: Fear of “them,” fear of the “unknown,” fear of those who… let’s face it, are not the Anglo-Saxon, straight, cis-gender, prim-and-proper they consider themselves to be. The sad thing is that many of these closed-minded people (not just the lawmakers but those who support them) do not seem to be willing to at least sit down and have a conversation with those who are not exactly like them. Instead, they just cater to those in their corner, consequences be dammed. And those consequences are indeed happening: Several state and local officials outside of North Carolina and Mississippi are banning official travel to those states in protest of those states’ anti-LGBT laws. North Carolina alone is feeling further backlash from businesses like PayPal and producers of an upcoming Hulu series dropping plans to do business in the state. And just this weekend, Bruce Springsteen — The Boss! — cancelled a concert in Greensboro in protest of the North Carolina legislation. (Thank you, Bruce!)
But for every Mississippi and North Carolina who wants to alienate forward thinking, there are those like the governor of Georgia, who last month vetoed legislation that would have allowed “faith-based organizations” (note the quotes there, because the definition was broad) to deny services to LGBTs. The governor faced a lot of calls for him to veto the bill (including from those in a TV & entertainment industry that’s become quite the economic generator for the state), but he stated his move was of a feeling that “Georgia is a welcoming state” that doesn’t need to enact discrimination laws to “protect the faith-based community.”
Though I can’t say for sure, I’d like to believe that the governor of Georgia perhaps actually talked with those in the LGBT community, or at least their allies. And with that, I want to highlight a news item I must give Hannah credit for as well, as she shared an article on her blog about a study political science researchers from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkley conducted in collaboration with the Los Angeles LGBT Center. The study about face-to-face conversations, whose findings were released this week, was an outgrowth from the soul-searching in the wake of Proposition 8, the California amendment that barred same-sex marriages in the state. A research attempt in 2014, involving a different researcher not involved in this new survey, had to be retracted after doubts surfaced about that researcher’s data validity and methodology, including using gay canvassers exclusively. (That survey’s researcher denied any intentional misconduct.)
This time around, however, the new survey broadened its subject from the issue of marriage equality to prejudice against the transgender community. About 1,800 voters in the Miami area took online surveys about several topics, asking to rate from 0 to 100 their opinions on questions that included but were not limited to topics relevant to the transgender community (for reference, we’ll call this “Phase 1”). About 501 of those households agreed to canvassing visits from L.A. LGBT Center volunteers or those from a South Florida-based LGBT advocacy group; some of these volunteers identified as transgender, some did not (as noted above, a different canvassing approach than what was used in that earlier survey). In these face-to-face conversations, one-half of those 501 households were asked questions about transgender rights (the “treatment group” if you want to get all scientific); the other half (the “placebo group”) had conversations about a completely unrelated topic, recycling. Those same 501 households then received e-mail follow-up surveys 3 days, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 3 months after the canvassing; these follow-ups included the very same questions asked in the “Phase 1” survey on 0-to-100 scales.
Analysis of the survey, canvassing, and follow-up findings found results similar to the discredited 2014 survey: Face-to-face conversations about germane topics got some people to change their minds. Those who went through canvasses involving transgender people and topics felt, on average, 10 percent more favorably towards transgender people and issues. This finding includes results affected by empathy (some subjects freely discussed prejudices they had felt themselves) and resilience (some in the “treatment group” were shown an attack ad used to challenge pro-trans measures, including an ordinance passed in Miami-Dade County that protected transgender citizens from discrimination). While a 10 percent average may not seem much (and while some survey recipients’ views may have decreased or stayed the same), consider this fact: That 10-point scale upward is the same increase in favor of gay marriage between 1998 and 2012, a period when 8 states legalized same-sex marriage but other states (including California and Wisconsin) barred it.
It’s an amazing survey to read about (you can do so here and here), and it really proves one powerful thing: Talking on-on-one about an issue can lead to an enlightening among at least those on one side of the issue. It’s an approach I wholeheartedly endorse (heck, I wrote a poem about it; I’m not bragging), and hopefully it will be used a lot more when it comes to topics affecting our society, including issues on LGBT rights. Maybe soon, instead of enacting crazy laws about which public restrooms one can or cannot use, those in high power and the morally conservative constituents who vote them in can first talk with those who are, well, not exactly like them.
And maybe after they agree that anti-LGBT laws are ridiculous, they can then agree on how disgusting some lawmakers’ behavior can be.