Focus on a single political unit.
Why a single political group? And what are the criteria for choice
Personal contacts with at least a few legislators is key. You will need advocates.
NYCTR made quick contact with a young Albany County legislator, Noelle Kinsch, who helped us understand the power structure. We bypassed the sponsor of a human rights bill as he was a weaker supporter of transgender equality and would not be a strong advocate in the County legislature.
Choose a legislative body that gives unstructured access to most legislators. NYCTR thought that the Albany County legislature met our needs through their public forum sessions prior to each of the monthly meetings. We could deliver our message in our own voices to the entire body. This was key in gaining new advocates and supporters for transgender anti-discrimination legislation.
Have the right message, and stay on message.
The message that resonates is always that discrimination is wrong. Not to support anti-discrimination legislation puts a person in favor of it. All the legislators understood that. They all did not understand gender identity or expression, even after they voted to protect transgender people. So talk about discrimination not gender expression or identity.
Vary the delivery.
At each of these public forums, NYCTR provided data on the prevalence of discrimination against transgender people. We provided data on the effects of discrimination through personal stories and stories of parents who were seeing discrimination against their transgender children. We also included, though less frequently, the voices of professional advocates who supported anti-discrimination legislation. These include university professors, counselors, physicians, and clergy.
The storytellers were advocates for equality through by ending legal discrimination. For effectiveness they must come from the jurisdiction of the legislative group. They must cover a range of ages to mirror the legislators themselves. This was brought home when one legislator was heard to say, after hearing a transgender teen, “He is just like one of my six boys. He would fit right in.”
Over time, advocates must be identified and asked for support in the legislative body. For NYCTR this was accomplished with the help of Ms. Kinsch through introductions to the Chairman of the Albany County Legislator, Shawn Morse. He in turn gained the advocacy of the Democratic leader, Frank Commisso.
The religious leaders from several Christian denominations and a well-known Rabbi were powerful. They also defused the argument that “religious people don’t support transgender anti-discrimination legislation.” None of those who oppose transgender equality where heard from.
Listen, listen, listen, and respect legislators’ concerns.
Remember who has the power: the legislator. With that in mind, there is no such thing as a dumb question that can be dismissed. Listen to understand the question and its meaning. Then repeat back what you heard. To get a wide range of understanding, NYCTR spoke with the legislators prior to the public forum, answered their questions, and if we could not, we got the answer and emailed it to them.
The most nettlesome question was, of course, about bathrooms and locker room facilities. That was a two-hour discussion, but in the end the legislator was convinced there was no issue. His advocacy in the legislature kept that issue from even arising.
Be polite. For better or worse, you are representing the entire transgender community.
Mind your manners, and thank the legislators for their attention. Email them thanks. Tell each one personally that you appreciate the attention they give you.
The result of this strategy in the Albany County Legislature?
Anti-discrimination legislation was passed unanimously.
Every Democrat and Every Republican voted to make transgender discrimination illegal in Albany County.
After the final vote, the entire legislature stood and gave those of us they’d come to know over the past few months a standing ovation.