Matthew’s Place
Published in

Matthew’s Place

How to Testify in Your State Legislature Against “Don’t Say Gay”

By Isabella Zollner

If you’ve ever felt that your elected officials aren’t listening to their constituents, giving testimony is for you! Testifying is the process of speaking in front of a small group of elected officials, who literally have to listen to you in that moment, about a bill that one of them proposed. Less than a year ago I didn’t even know what testifying meant, but now I’ve been fortunate enough to have given testimony twice! And although it can be intimidating, it’s also incredibly empowering to be the reason a legislator changes their mind and decides to protect LGBTQ+ rights.

Find Your Bill

The first thing you need to do when preparing to testify is find a proposed bill to speak about. Public interest groups, like the ACLU, will often publicize their support or their opposition to proposed bills. This link will bring you to a list of state bills related to LGBTQ+ rights that the ACLU is tracking. There you can see the bill name and what stage it is in in the legislative process. Bills that are “referred to committee” but haven’t yet passed through both legislative bodies may still have an opportunity for public testimony! By clicking on the bill name on the ACLU’s tracker you will be brought directly to that bill’s homepage.

Find Your Committee

From there, you can determine which committee the bill has been assigned to and watch the committee’s calendar for updates about its public hearing. Public hearings are the hearings that anybody can testify at. And I do mean anybody! No matter your age, citizenship, or voter registration status, you are allowed to testify during public hearings. Now, just because a bill has been assigned to a committee doesn’t mean it will get a public hearing. Committee assignments are just the first step in a long process of a bill becoming a law, and many bills are struck down way before they ever see a public hearing. Additionally, not every state requires every bill to have a public hearing, although most will have one anyways.

Find Your Forms

Typically, you will see updates about committee calendars two to three business days before the bill is being read. If you know an elected official personally, maybe you worked on their campaign or are just family friends, they may be able to let you know a little more in advance. Once a bill has a scheduled public hearing you can go ahead and use your state’s online form to sign up for public testimony, or just show up at your state’s capitol building the day of and sign up in person! These forms will typically ask your preferred first and last name, which bill you would like to testify on, and if you’re representing any public interest groups. Remember, it’s perfectly fine if you aren’t representing a public interest group, you can still testify!

Write Your Testimony

Now that the paperwork is out of the way you can get to the important part, writing your testimony. It’s very important that you prepare your testimony ahead of time. Trying to come up with something on the spot isn’t likely to end well. Thankfully, there’s no need to memorize your testimony! Most people bring notecards, or printed out scripts, or just read directly off of a computer or phone. As long as you can occasionally look up from your script and directly address the legislators you are speaking to, you’re good to go.

When writing your testimony there are a few important things to remember. First of all, don’t insult the elected officials you’re addressing. These are high stress situations and you are perfectly justified in feeling a personal dislike of the legislators who are trying to take your rights away. But insulting them won’t help anyone, and it certainly won’t help to change their minds. It’s best to stay respectful, one simple way people tend to show their respect and professionalism is to start their speeches by thanking the chairperson.

Second, while statistics are good persuasive devices, filling your testimony with them is likely to cause your audience to lose attention. A better strategy is to talk about an experience you or someone you know had and relate that to the bill. Third, keep your testimony short! There are often lots of people who want to testify on these bills and the chairperson will limit each of their testimony to only 2 or 3 minutes so that everyone gets a chance.

Practice Reading Your Testimony

Practice reading your speech aloud! Reciting it to a friend, family member, or even a pet and receiving constructive criticism will go a long way towards making your speech professional and persuasive.

Finally, be ready to be addressed by the legislators after you’re done giving testimony. This is an opportunity for them to ask questions or applaud you for giving testimony. As long as your testimony remains respectful to them, you have nothing to worry about. I have watched what feels like countless hours of testimony being given and I have never seen a legislator lash out at someone. Not only would it look bad for them to be insulting their constituents, it could be grounds for the chairperson to refuse to allow them to ask questions in the future.

Be Ready on the Day of the Public Hearing

Once the day of the public hearing comes around you should arrive at your state’s capitol building at least an hour before the bill is scheduled to be read. This will give you plenty of time to find the room you need to be in and to tell the chairperson’s assistant that you are here and ready to testify! In most cases it’s best to dress semi-professionally, but they can’t stop you from testifying just because you aren’t wearing fancy clothing.

I won’t lie, giving testimony can be frightening for many people. And it can also be disappointing if there isn’t time for everyone to testify and then you don’t get to. But testimony is the best way I’ve found to connect with your legislators and change their minds. In a year where a record amount of anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been proposed nationwide we need people to stand up and make their voices heard now more than ever!

About the Author:

After being subjected to homophobic harassment in the classroom, Isabella decided to try and use her writing to encourage others to stand up for each other and themselves. Isabella is a high school student in Lafayette, IN.



Matthew’s Place is by and for LGBTQ+ youth and a program of the Matthew Shepard Foundation l #EraseHate

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Matthew's Place is a program of the Matthew Shepard Foundation| Words by & for LGBTQ+ youth | #EraseHate | Want to submit? Email