By Michael Gibson Faith
I was recently sent information about an upcoming ex-gay speaking engagement to happen during a gay pride week at Central Michigan University. For those who don’t know, ex-gay refers to those individuals and groups who believe that through prayer, commitment to Jesus Christ, and support from peers, one can change their sexual behavior to either be celibate or to engage in monogamous heterosexual relations through marriage. The main group behind this is Exodus International. However, there are others who have either slightly more or less radical views.
I used to be someone who thought we needed to protest every time they had a conference and every time they came to any church or campus. I used to think that we had to spread our truth to them, and to those who came to their events. However, the more I see these kind of events and our community’s reaction to them the more I think we need to step back and ask ourselves what we are trying to do.
My experience over the past few years convinces me that we need to just let their events go and commit to our own agenda. The more time we spend strategizing on how to respond and protesting their events takes away time from educational events and program planning for our community. It takes time away from thinking about proactive ways to gain advances in LGBT legislation and local policies. It takes time away from relationship-building with communities of faith. You can’t build relationships when you’re protesting. We have more time to open doors and walk through them when we set our own agenda and shape the debate on our terms. We don’t achieve more by wasting too much time responding to the actions of our opposition.
George Lakoff writes in his book “Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate” that language is how the right is winning in this country. One of the ways we actually help them is through our letters to the editor and protests that repeat anti-LGBT frames and language. For example, when we protest holding up signs that say things like “sexual orientation is not a choice,” we actually reinforce to others the message that it is a choice. Observers only pick-up “sexual orientation” and “choice,” not the stuff in-between. When we make statements that include their claims in order to counteract their claims, it just reinforces their claims.
The right understands how to frame LGBT issues so that people are swayed to support their discriminatory point of view. They know that in order to purposefully not think of an elephant, you have to think of an elephant.
Every time we engage on their terms we strengthen their message. Every time we show up to their events and counter their message without doing our work of framing and of educating and repeating frames, we evoke and reinforce their frames. We also help them do their job by getting them free media when we engage with them.
The right has been framing for over 40 years, we have only begun to scratch the surface. People don’t listen to facts and figures, they only hear things that reflect the frames they know. We have to work towards using frames and opening up hearts and minds through deep respectful dialogue in order to actually educate folks.
We have a long way to go. We have to frame our issues as an effective alternative to the right’s messages; we have to repeat our new frames often and in ways that folks can hear it. If we want change, we need to shape our agenda and stop reacting to the events and actions of the right. It might mean some short-term losses, but if we begin to plan, frame, and mobilize around those frames, in time we will have a public fully educated on LGBT issues that is ready to move towards progressive, rights-based legislation.