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What convinces conservative voters to support full LGBTQ equality?

Exploring how to persuade working and middle class voters to support nondiscrimination legislation, Working America partnered with the LGBTQ labor organization, Pride at Work, and went straight to the streets of suburban Columbus, Ohio.

There, they held in-depth conversations with 784 voters. Their team canvassed individuals, exploring attitudes about SB 100, the state legislative proposal to outlaw discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The proposal also allows transgender and nonbinary individuals to use the public restroom that coincides with their gender identity, as opposed to the sex they were assigned at birth.

A few common themes emerged from the conversations the canvassers had with residents according to the newly released report, “Tackling Transphobia in the Heartland.”

First, there were folks who were generally supportive of nondiscrimination legislation, but would then waver their support after they discovered that the legislation included measures that would allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Second, age was the largest determining factor as to whether one supports or opposes nondiscrimination legislation. Fifty-three percent of folks under 50 claimed they support the nondiscrimination legislation, whereas only 24% of voters over 50 stated their support.

Third, 26% of hardline conservatives could actually be convinced to support the LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill, even with the inclusion of public restroom accommodations for transgender individuals.

When asked about the implications of this work, Jerame Davis, Executive Director of Pride at Work, mentioned the continuum of talking points that help move people toward support.

“This is useful to those trying to pass inclusive nondiscrimination laws as well as those who are fighting against laws attacking LGBTQ people – like the spate of recent bathroom bills,” he told LGBTQ Nation. “Our experience shows that, when it comes to access to an appropriate restroom, many voters need to talk and think through the issue because it’s something they just haven’t put much thought into.”

There were a few messages in particular that really seemed to change the attitude of those initially opposed to transgender public accommodations protections:

  • Making the point that laws preventing discrimination against LGBTQ people are already on the books in nearby locations
  • Countering safety fears about transgender people using public restrooms based on their gender identity
  • Appealing to the common belief in fairness and the Golden Rule
  • Countering the “man in a dress” image by illustrating the real danger transgender women face
  • Invoking empathy
  • Building on parents’ logistical experience with children and restrooms
  • Countering suggestions of creating a third, non-gendered bathroom option

This work suggests that communication is key. Often times, folks opposing nondiscrimination legislation haven’t fully thought through the issue. It’s also helpful to humanize LGBTQ individuals.

As Davis mentioned, “When you humanize the issue, it forces people to think of the real consequences of a policy like this on real people.”

In a time when party lines seem to be hardening, this work illustrates that it is still indeed possible to reach across the aisle, and to engage with conservatives who have preconceived notions about LGBTQ rights. It just has to be done in a way that resonates with them.

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