Winning the Narrative on LGBTQ+ Rights in 2022
By Scott Zumwalt
Lately, we’ve seen a dramatic rise of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation at the state level, from book banning to a myriad of attacks on the transgender community. The looming SCOTUS decision that could overturn Roe v. Wade has many wondering if the underpinnings of Obergefell might be next.
Extremists on the Right have been on a long crusade to spark a new culture war to wedge voters and mobilize their base. Approaching the midterms, it’s important pro-equality candidates know how to spot and address these baseless attacks without giving them a bigger platform.
For years our team has worked on some of the biggest LGBTQ+ fights and have long discussed how we can’t let the other side control the debate. A few weeks ago, BPI Partner Ben LaBolt joined a panel at the National Democratic Training Committee’s Build Blue Week to share some of our recent takeaways on how candidates should approach LGBTQ+ issues heading into 2022 and beyond.
1. Don’t take the bait.
The second we enable the opposition to talk about “parental rights,” “grooming,” or other twisted definition, we end up on defense — and it’s difficult to win when you’re on your heels. The opposition muddles the issues, and we lose voters. The right approach is to stay on offense by calling out their arguments as what they are: divisive hysteria and a distraction on the real issues that will make our country and economy stronger.
2. Flip the script.
One great thing we learned from the marriage movement was the power of the libertarian argument. The same thing applies to the issues we’re talking about today. The government is infringing on your freedom by controlling what’s in your local schools or what you read.
3. Make the rights real.
Rights, freedoms, legislation — it can all be very nebulous. It’s critical to take the political talking points and put them into perspective so they’re tangible to voters.
For example, without the Equality Act, someone could be fired from their job one day and lose their housing the next day. HRC has an excellent explainer here.
4. Call them out.
An attack on our community is an attack on our freedom and rights. Candidates who have not expressed support or voted against the Equality Act are signaling that they are in favor of rolling back our rights further, be it non-discrimination acts or marriage. That’s a likely powerful reminder for many pro-equality Republicans, Independent, and Democratic voters to not be complacent and sit on the sidelines this year.
There’s even an argument on calling these candidates out for spending time on these topics when they should be focused on the economy or other local issues.
5. The best messengers are those who connect with persuadable voters.
It’s no secret that we’re more persuaded by people with whom we share a common identity or experience. So look for LGBTQ+ individuals and allied family members who can be the best advocates for not only the cause, but for your candidacy, too. I’ve always been moved to goosebumps when I hear stories of an LGBTQ+ service member who put their life on the line for our country and only asks for the same freedoms as everyone else. Or the family of faith that believes firmly in the Golden Rule for their neighbor. People don’t want to be told what to think, but when approaching through shared values or experiences it opens a window of opportunity to break through.
The progress made in the LGBTQ+ rights movement in my lifetime has been absolutely extraordinary. While I’m a firm believer that Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision that the arc of history bends towards justice, we face another test in 2022. Let’s not take things for granted and let the other side own the narrative.