Keeping Families Together
The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog
April 20, 2012
No Matter How Good, Scripted Conversations Have Nothing On An Authentic Story
By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA
This was a good week. One with fresh insights into what may work and what will definitely not work when talking to people who see nothing wrong with denying LGBT persons rights enjoyed by every other citizen and convincing them otherwise. It’s the convincing that is the problem, because convincing requires that the talking must be in carefully attended to: choose words and tone to make the listener receptive, avoid making him or her defensive. When two people with different opinions agree to talk and listen to each other, a golden opportunity exists to come to a mutual understanding.
We Learned From The Breakthrough Conversation Project
We went to a training session put up by the Breakthrough Conversation Project. This is a public education project from the Equality California Institute “designed to identify and overcome the psychological, cultural and emotional triggers related to LGBT people and kids that drive down societal and political support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality–including the freedom to marry.” The people responsible for the course content were professionals who do thoroughgoing research on effective communication. They tested their theories in fiercely fought LGBT campaigns in several states and distilled their experiences into lessons learned.
We learned a lot. For example, avoid saying Civil Rights, because that term belongs to Black Americans some of who get upset when we appropriate that term for our purposes. Use Equal Rights instead. Also avoid terms like “marriage equality,” “same sex marriage,” “gay marriage,” or “right to marry.” Instead use: “marriage,” “freedom to marry,” or “marriage for same sex couples.” The idea is avoid putting the listener on the defensive by using terms that the media overused and loaded with negative meanings. We were shown strategies to connect with those who are conflicted about marriage for same sex couples. For example, build empathy by emphasizing that exclusion from marriage hurts couples and families and tell stories that illustrate the hurt. The latter we didn’t need to be told. We know from nearly twenty years of experience that stories are the most powerful way to connect with other people.
But We Probably Won’t Use All We Learned
What the Breakthrough Conversation Project learned during their campaigns and shared with us is priceless, but the application of their knowledge is not for what we do. The lessons they imparted are framed to do political battle. They do analysis on voter patterns, they research what messages work, and then they come up with what to say, how to say it, and what to emphasize. Theirs are public campaigns to prevail at the ballot box; ours is a one on one conversation with a parent to keep a family together now that a child has come out.
This difference in purpose became clear when during a staged role play the parent of a third grader asked the teacher: “What am I going to say, when my child comes home and asks: ‘Daddy, what is gay?’” It caught the teacher flat footed. She stumbled and hemmed and hawed, then came out of her role, turned to us class participants and said that this was an answer the Project was still researching. What? A child heard an unfamiliar term and wants to know what it means. He or she is not interested in the theories of sexual orientation or consequences of a wrong answer in the voting booth. Most people in the room know what the answer is. Gay is a man who falls in love with another man or a woman who falls in love with another woman just like Daddy fell in love with Mommy. If a parent is as lucky as we are, he or she can point to an example: Gay is like Uncle Lance who loves Uncle Francis.
We learned from our class work but will apply it very carefully, because each conversation is unique and stands by itself. And that is why we collect and tell stories: to show our families they are not alone.
Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org