How 10 minutes of your time could help end transphobia

By Arwen Armbrecht

Having a ten minute conversation about transgender people can have a major impact on views. A study, published by Science last April, shows that not only can a simple, educated conversation change people’s opinion, but that those changes are long lasting, and even resistant to new transphobic arguments from TV ads.

The study was carried out in Florida, where 56 canvassers of various gender identities interviewed 501 residents. Those interviewed were asked asked to think of a time when they themselves were singled out for being different, and encouraged to imagine life from a trans person’s perspective.

The results of those conversations were not only long lasting, but also resistant to negative stimuli after the fact. Interviewees were also shown an attack ad against transgender rights. While the ad did have some immediate effect, people’s opinions post-conversation remained overall positive. Even more striking, the ads did not have a lasting effect. In the three month follow-up, all those surveyed had returned to their pre-ad positions.

Those results suggest that there is power in an engaging conversation, as opposed to TV ads, posters or quick ‘sound bytes’ to change people’s opinions.

Having a conversation about transgender rights is also easy to do, once one understands the issues. The study found that “canvassers did not require extensive experience. Both first-time and experienced canvassers were effective.”

The results are encouraging for transgender people, but it is unclear if they could be applied to other discriminated groups. One reason discrimination against transgender people might be different is that they have not been in the public eye for nearly as long. So few people were familiar with the word ‘transgender’ and what it meant that, in the third week of the study, a definition was added to the survey. This might contribute to why people were more willing to change their opinion. Unlike racism or homophobia, which is often rooted in years of prejudice, people are just now coming to know about the transgender community.

Transphobia is not just a civil rights issue, but also a public health issue. As the report notes: transgender people are 25 times more likely to be at risk of abuse assault and suicide. Reducing transphobia would have a substantial impact in reducing that risk.

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Originally published at on October 12, 2016.