Keeping Families Together
The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog
A Message Is Most Readily Heard Cloaked In A Story, But Not Just Any Story
By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA
Regular readers of this blog know that we are always on the hunt for stories to convey our message. We know from experience that stories tell the message far better than statistical data dumps or appeals to logic. Now we found articles providing scientific evidence that stories are indeed more persuasive than argument and evidence. When data and logic are used to change strongly held beliefs, people turn defensive. But when persuasion is tried through story telling, people are emotionally involved and people are led by emotions.
The story is a Trojan horse for the persuader’s agenda. Therein lies the problem. For the Greek attackers the Trojan horse was a boon, for the Trojan defenders a disaster. So it is with stories. We want our stories to exemplify the message we have to tell. All our stories are factual and they must be appropriate for our message and the parent whom we are trying to persuade that to have a gay child is no reason to break up the family. Our message must do no harm and thus our stories must do no harm. We have two examples of real stories that we cannot use in our work.
A Story With A Happy Ending We Cannot Use
A boy grows up in a small town in Florida’s panhandle, which is sometimes called Lower Alabama with all the sad implications that go with that. It is a rural community with a capital R, deep in the Bible belt. Need we say that the people are ultra-conservative and anti-gay? The boy grows up in that community knowing the name of every one of his high school peers. The boy discovers he is gay and is now scared to death. When the subject of gay people comes up, his parents refer to them with pejoratives. In his high school sophomore year the boy comes out to his friends some react with happiness now that he is out and, as the word spreads, for others it was not a big deal. Buoyed by his success he decides to tell his parents. He woke up his mother one night and told her. Mom said okay and told him she loved him regardless and always would. He told his stepfather. A little awkward at first, but it smoothed out and his stepfather never treated him differently.
A Story With A Sad Ending We Also Cannot Use
Here is another story. Last year about this time, a 14-year old bisexual boy from Buffalo, New York, made a video for the It Gets Better project. He talked about enduring constant taunting and bullying from school bullies. The bullying was so bad that his parents talked to school officials who then tried to stop it. Stopping met with sporadic success. When he entered high school he was upbeat. His parents say he was happy and his grades were good. This 14-year old had supportive parents’ and he was seeing both a therapist and a social worker. He gave hope to other LGBT teenagers: “All you have to do is hold your head up and you’ll go far. Just love yourself and you’re set . . . It gets better” (to see the video, click here). But on Sunday, September 18, 2011, he killed himself, the bullying had become unbearable.
Why Not Use The Stories?
The first story was told to encourage others to come out. “It isn’t that bad,” the storyteller writes, “and even if there is a bad reaction, it feels good not to have to hide.” No way that we will ever use that story and the reason is the second story. In that one, a boy is out, has the support we usually recommend, but unremitting bullying is still the result of coming out ultimately leading to self-destruction. We are not using that story either. The first story is bad advice and the second is too grim.
API Family Pride’s Banquet Is The Best Source For Our Stories
Our banquet is a celebration of API parents and family who supported their LGBT children. We listen to all the stories told during that emotional evening. We name no names, but we tell the stories about the despair, the doubt, the anxiety, and, in the end, the triumph of real family values. Our banquet not only keeps us enthused, but also is the source of the powerful stories we use to illustrate how API families stay together despite a tradition of values that include homophobia. And if ever we can capture the emotional content of our banquet, most of our work will be done.
Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org