Meeting People Where They’re At – But Not Leaving Them There

In today’s fragmented world, where many interactions occur online, engaging in meaningful conversations with people with different viewpoints can seem like an uphill battle. Yet, when it comes to issues impacting LGBTQ+ people, these conversations can have a powerful impact. Addressing misunderstandings and discussing issues impacting LGBTQ+ people and our lives can help slow the spread of misinformation, build understanding, and lessen support for harmful legislation.

A crowd of people seated at the MA statehouse.
Plaintiffs and community celebration at the MA State House for the
first anniversary of marriage equality.

We’ve seen the power of this throughout our movement. We are celebrating 20 years of marriage equality in Massachusetts this year, but the fact is marriage wasn’t settled after GLAD’s landmark Goodridge court victory in November 2003, or even on the day couples finally began to marry on May 17, 2004. It took another three years to build support and defend the freedom to marry in Massachusetts from the threat of a constitutional amendment and another decade to win marriage nationally. And by the time the Supreme Court decided Obergefell in 2015 there was a super-majority of support for marriage equality across the country. That happened, in part, because our community launched a movement that centered our stories—of love, commitment, family, community, and what marriage meant to us. We talked to lawmakers, community groups, clergy, business leaders, friends, and family. People listened and learned and were moved to join the cause.

GLAD Staff and Board members smiling in green "Yes on 3" t-shirts around a large sign that says "Election Night Viewing Party"
GLAD staff and board celebrating the success of the
Yes on 3 campaign

A similar story played out when, in 2018, opponents attempted to repeal the Massachusetts transgender nondiscrimination law on the ballot. With the Yes on 3 campaign, transgender people told their stories, sharing the joys and challenges of their lives with friends, family, lawmakers, the media, and on the doorsteps of their neighbors and even total strangers. Again, people listened, learned, and joined us. We organized and won the support of city and town councils around the commonwealth and editorial support from major media outlets. On Election Night, Yes On 3 prevailed with a whopping 67.8 percent of the vote, making Massachusetts the first state in the US to uphold protections for trans and nonbinary people by popular vote.

Our personal stories, and those of young trans people in our lives, can help humanize complex issues and foster empathy. Today, when we are facing legislation and local initiatives targeting transgender youth around the country, one-on-one conversations with people in your life can be a powerful place to start to shift misunderstanding. Many people may not know a trans person or know that they do. With so much debate in the media and online, you may find yourself in a conversation with someone you care about who has questions or needs the facts. Our loved ones might not know the best way to talk about these things, but if they feel heard, there’s a great opportunity to build connection and understanding.

Addressing misinformation requires patience, empathy, and a commitment to factual discussions. By emphasizing shared values and finding common ground, we can build understanding even in the face of disagreement. Last year, during the holiday season, Senior Director of Civil Rights and Legal Strategies Mary Bonauto and GLAD’s Public Education department teamed up to create resources for our community on how to talk with people unfamiliar with what it means to be transgender and the harms transgender young people are facing.

Tips for speaking across difference

  • Give people space to ask questions and help them feel heard.
  • Start from a place of shared values:
    • We all want what’s best for children, and families should have access to the best available information to support their kids, including when it comes to medical care.
    •  Equal access to education is fundamental to enable children to grow into healthy, secure adults who can contribute to their communities. All kids deserve to be included and feel like they belong in school life – that includes LGBTQ+ kids 
    • All people are deserving of respect and safety. 
  • It’s ok to not know all the answers – the point is connection and starting a dialogue.
  • Recognize that creating a safe space for all participants in dialogue is key. With increasing online and offline harassment and doxing, it’s important to trust your gut and take your and others’ level of risk into account. If you feel unsafe or someone is engaging with you in bad faith, you can always disengage.

Navigating conversations like these can be challenging, and it’s essential to approach these discussions with empathy, patience, and a commitment to understanding. While changing someone’s mind may not always be possible, ensuring they feel valued and heard, and sharing your perspective, can further the conversation and get people thinking.

Have you had a conversation with someone who felt differently than you about LGBTQ+ equality? Tell us how it went! Join us on social media to share your experiences and continue the conversation.

This story was originally published in the Summer 2024 GLAD Briefs newsletter. Read more.