LGBT Rights Messaging

The LGBT Movement Advancement Project provides a broad range of messaging resources. Much of the following quotes or relies on that work.

Most Americans don’t understand the inequalities faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people—and how those inequalities affect their lives. Yet, in just the past few years, Americans have moved rapidly to accept marriage equality and reject discrimination against gay and transgender people.

For example, as recently as 2011, a majority of Americans opposed marriage between same-sex couples and it was still a fairly effective wedge issue for conservatives as recently as 2009. Today, marriage equality is approaching 60 percent support and, depending on how the question is asked, Americans oppose various forms of discrimination by margins as high as 5-to-1.

We can continue this trend by pointing out that, when it comes to what’s important about being an American, LGBT people have the same values as everyone else.

Say . . .

This is about everyday Americans who want the same chance as everyone else to pursue health and happiness, earn a living, be safe in their communities, serve their country and take care of the ones they love.

Why . . .

Say that all of us want the same things in life; we should all be treated fairly and equally. 

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .

Protect or grant rights

Benefits

Civil rights

Fairness and equality

Equal opportunity

Remove unfair barriers

Why . . .

Talking about rightsbenefits or what gay people deserve does not help persuadable voters understand the issues and it tends to sound like you want something different or special for LGBT people. Also, civil rights comparisons can alienate some African Americans.

Use language that is inclusive—language that shows unfair barriers prevent LGBT people from doing things that we hold dear or even take for granted, like fulfilling obligations to their loved ones, their families, their friends, their neighbors, their communities and their country. Use examples that help Americans acknowledge LGBT people as average, hard-working Americans who should be treated as such. 

About discrimination

Polls show that about nine out of 10 Americans don’t realize hardworking gay and transgender employees are not protected by federal non-discrimination law. They don’t realize that LGBT people can lose their jobs or be denied housing simply because of who they are. So you need to tell them.

Say . . .

All hardworking people in our community, including gay and transgender people, should have the chance to earn a living, provide for themselves and their families, and live like everyone else. But in our state/city, it’s currently legal to fire employees or refuse to rent an apartment to people just because they are gay or transgender. Nobody should have to live in fear that they can be legally fired or evicted just because of who they are.

Why . . .

Most states do not have anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT people and fewer still cover transgender people. In states that don’t provide protection, it is usually possible for cities and counties to enact their own local law and scores of them have done so.

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .

Employment or housing rights

Discrimination

Employment or housing protections

Treating people fairly and equally

Equal opportunity

Why . . .

As we have explained in other sections of this book, avoid talking about giving or granting any rights; instead say that we should not deny protections or necessities. Obviously we oppose discrimination but that language can lead to a polarized debate, so it’s better to talk about treating people fairly, or protecting equal opportunity.

About marriage

Focus on communicating what marriage is about—love and commitment:

Say . . .

Marriage is about loving, committed couples who want to make a lifelong promise to take care of and be responsible for each other, for better and for worse.

Why . . .

Make it clear that gay couples want to marry for the same reasons as straight couples. Then appeal to American values.

Say . . .

If America stands for anything, it’s equal opportunity for all. If you have two children or grandchildren, and one is straight and the other gay, you still love them equally. You know the government should treat them fairly and equally. Nobody in our families or our communities should be denied the happiness that comes with being married just because they’re gay.

Why . . .

This not only frames the issue as one of equal opportunity and fairness, it brings voters into the story and suggests that the matter could directly affect their own friends and family.

An interesting thing about the marriage issue is that you can discuss it in terms of any of our progressive values—not just the opportunity frame above, but also freedom and security. For example, many would agree that:

Say . . .

Freedom is America’s most cherished value. Our nation was built on freedom. But freedom has to mean freedom for everyone, and that includes the idea that people should be free to marry the person they love.

Why . . .

Certain audiences most want to hear about freedom. But for the very most persuadable voters—the ones who are the least familiar with the facts of the issue—the value of security may provide your strongest argument.

Say . . .

Our community is stronger when we have the kind of stable family relationships that come with marriage. The sick and injured have people who tend to them. The elderly are cared for. Children are safer. That’s just as true for gay couples. All of us benefit when people can make decisions for their incapacitated spouses, obtain family health insurance and are authorized to visit their loved ones in the hospital. Stable families make stable communities.

Why . . .

This monologue doesn’t rely on any kind of sympathy or soft values. It tells listeners how they personally benefit from marriage equality.

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .

Gay marriage

Same-sex marriage

Marriage rights

Marriage benefits

Marriage equality or just marriage

Exclusion or denial from marriage

Love, commitment, responsibility

Taking care of the one you love

Why . . .

Avoid gay marriage and same-sex marriage, which de-personalizes the issue. If the matter isn’t clear to your audience, say “marriage for same-sex couples.” There is sometimes a misperception that gay couples only marry for rights and benefits. To avoid this, focus on the values of love, commitment and responsibility that go with marriage.

Finally, we may be sorely tempted to take some swings at our political opponents, to brand them negatively. But it is better to let them negatively brand themselves.

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .

Hate, haters, hatred

Bigot, bigots, bigotry

Prejudice

Religious extremists

Anti-gay Christians

Love, standing for love

Exclusion, rejection and intolerance

Anti-gay activists

Far-right activists

Why . . .

When we make clear that we’re on the side of love, our opponents are against love. The implication is enough. It’s not useful to employ emotionally charged words like haters or bigots. And we certainly don’t want to use language that seems to imply that an entire religious tradition or denomination is anti-gay. You can say “this is the kind of exclusion and intolerance that divides our community” or “the hurtful rhetoric of the anti-gay activists.” But generally, stick to the positive and your audience will understand you believe that everyone deserves the same chance at happiness and stability, while our opponents simply don’t.

SHARE