New Research: Conversations Build Lasting Support for Transgender People

Gabe Murchison

A new study from researchers at Stanford and Berkeley indicates that a ten-minute conversation with a stranger can lead to a lasting increase in support for transgender people.

In the study, published yesterday in Science, researchers David Broockman and Joshua Kalla measure the impact of canvassers trained by the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Leadership Lab. The canvassers went door-to-door in conservative neighborhoods of Florida’s Miami-Dade County, showing subjects a video about transgender people and the arguments for and against discrimination protections. Then, they asked the subjects to describe a time they’d faced prejudice and listened to their stories.

Three months later, subjects who took part in these conversations had significantly more favorable attitudes towards transgender people. The change was as big as the average American voter’s shift in attitudes towards lesbian and gay people in the fourteen years between 1998 and 2012. Canvassed participants’ opinions even “bounced back” after they were shown an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” video months later.

This result is remarkable because political scientists rarely find that conversations shift attitudes in a long-term way. The difference may be the Leadership Lab’s unique approach to the interactions: rather than trying to convince subjects, canvassers had them reflect on their own experiences. Both transgender and non-transgender canvassers were able to change attitudes.

“The researchers are proving in a very specific way something we’ve always known broadly—that increased visibility of transgender people can spark a dialogue critical to our long-term success,” said Jay Brown, HRC’s Director of Research and Public Education. “Whether we’re going door-to-door or we’re looking to impact millions of voters, we need to find creative approaches to engaging in public education with real stories of transgender people and our lives.”

The new study provides compelling evidence that education, contact and conversation can earn support for LGBT people. Last week, HRC released new polling data showing that more than a third of U.S. likely voters personally know someone who is transgender and those with this personal contact are much more likely to have favorable feelings towards transgender people. In November, HRC released “Moms for Transgender Equality,” a series of video featuring mothers of transgender kids and their journeys of acceptance.

Broockman and Kalla’s study is a randomized, controlled trial—a gold standard in health research that is difficult to achieve for a complicated effort like door-to-door canvassing. Participants were unaware that the surveys measuring their attitudes were related to the canvassing, likely making their responses more genuine.

Click here to learn more about HRC’s work on transgender visibility and inclusion.


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