SAGE Story is a national digital storytelling program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) elders. The initiative brings together sites in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to build their capacities as LGBT aging advocates and to collect stories on the ways in which discrimination has affected LGBT older people.
This collaboration is designed to capture the critical voice of LGBT elders on LGBT equality advocacy struggles—from efforts to pass state and local nondiscrimination laws, to policy initiatives for relationship recognition, to campaigns to encourage pro-equality public opinion.
To prepare them to lead this work, our LGBT aging advocates will receive a custom training in non-discrimination messaging and framing from Jace Woodrum, Director of Communications for the Gill Foundation and Roey Thorpe, Director of Advocacy Programs for the Equality Federation. The training is based on new research, conducted by the Equality Federation and the Movement Advancement Project.
Recently, SAGE's Serena Worthington, Director of National Field Initiatives, spoke with Jace Woodrum to learn more.
Can you tell me a bit about the research process?
When we do polling around non-discrimination laws both in local communities, state-wide and at the national level, we see high levels of support, oftentimes in the 70th and 80th percentile, but when we get into the midst of a campaign around non-discrimination—our opponents use some very hurtful scare tactics to stir up concerns in the public which can make it tough to keep the support that we start with. Our research is focused on understanding the real concerns people have and developing messaging that helps people navigate those concerns and remain supportive.
How was the research conducted?
The process began with one-on-one interviews with LGBT people to understand their experiences of discrimination. Then, we went into some exploratory focus groups to learn about how people think about non-discrimination laws. Over the course of the project, we honed in on trans issues, and we also looked separately at employment non-discrimination and housing and public accommodations. We have done dozens and dozens of focus groups, polls, and some online surveys as well.
Why is this project important?
We know that we are making, as a movement, huge advances on marriage, but our progress on non-discrimination has stalled at the state-wide level. Advancing non-discrimination laws and ensuring basic legal protections for LGBT people is critical because even as we’re winning marriage, our community still faces discrimination, especially transgender people who are especially vulnerable to unfair treatment at work and in our communities. Once we secure the freedom to marry nationwide, it’s only going to get more complicated. For example, we are seeing this play out right now in Pennsylvania, a state that has marriage equality but doesn’t have critical non-discrimination protections.
What are some key ways that framing and messaging have changed based on research?
For years, we talked about marriage as a set of rights and benefits that same-sex couples wanted to access. Then, through research, we learned that our way of talking about marriage as a set of critical rights was not building support among the public and was not accurately depicting why same-sex couples wanted to marry: for love and commitment. So we shifted our messaging, and we’ve seen huge gains in public opinion and in the number of states allowing same-sex couples to share in the freedom to marry. We’ve had similar breakthroughs from this non-discrimination research project, and we’re learning more and more everyday.
SAGE Story is funded by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund.
North Carolina Sites
SAGE Raleigh at the LGBT Community Center of Raleigh
SAGE Wilmington of the Cape Fear Coast
The Freedom Center for Social Justice
SAGE Western Pennsylvania at Persad Center
SAGE Philadelphia at William Way LGBT Community Center
--Posted by Serena Worthington, Director of National Field Initiatives. Follow her at @SerenaWorthy