How a 10-Minute Conversation Can Significantly Reduce Transphobia

A brief discussion is enough to change someone’s mind about transgender rights.
(Photo: Leland Bobbe/Getty Images)
Apr 9, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Alex Reed is an editorial intern at TakePart and a senior at the University of Southern California.

On Friday, legendary rocker Bruce Springsteen announced that he had canceled a concert in North Carolina in protest of that state’s controversial new law curbing the rights of the transgender community. But although The Boss and other advocates for trans rights are boycotting, staging demonstrations, or filing lawsuits, a new study suggests an alternative tactic: a 10-minute-long conversation.

Indeed, the study, published in the journal Science on Thursday, found that a 10-minute discussion between a door-to-door canvasser and a voter holding transphobic beliefs could significantly reduce the voter’s prejudice against the transgender community. The effect of that single, brief conversation on the voter’s opinion lasted up to three months, according to the study.

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Two political scientists, David Broockman, an assistant professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Joshua Kalla, a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, enlisted 56 experienced canvassers—some transgender, some not—to engage in thoughtful conversations with 501 voters in southern Florida. Voters were shown video ads that provided arguments for and against transgender rights and were asked to describe instances when they felt discriminated against.

The same canvassers who conducted the initial conversations revisited Florida voters after several weeks—or months, in some cases—and found that their conversations reflected a sustained decrease in bias against transgender individuals. The decrease in transphobia was found to be greater than that of homophobia in America between 1998 and 2012, according to the study. The voters also expressed increased support for antidiscriminatory laws that would protect transgender individuals.

“In some ways, we’re seeing the same patterns that we saw with gay marriage, where 40 years ago in Miami—where this study took place—Anita Bryant had this infamous ‘Save Our Children’ campaign that played on the same ideas about gay people that we’re seeing about transgender people now: ‘You can’t trust them around children. They are all sex offenders. They’re unstable,’ ” Broockman told Stanford Insights.

The canvassers used a persuasion technique devised by the Los Angeles Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center. The technique encourages people to consider the perspective of someone in a given situation by relating it to an instance where they felt similarly.

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“Most attempts by campaigns to influence voters don’t have an impact at all, and the ones that do, the benefit decays in three to five days,” David Fleischer, director of the Leadership LAB at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, told The Washington Post.

The method was first employed in a Science study from last year. Michael LaCour of the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted research similar to Broockman and Kalla’s, looking at how effective canvassing was when discussing marriage equality. LaCour claimed to have found that support for marriage equality increased after conversations with canvassers, especially when the canvasser was gay, but inconsistencies in the findings resulted in the study being retracted.

“We found that the canvasser’s identity doesn’t really seem to matter; both transgender and non-transgender canvassers were effective,” Broockman told Insights. “What seems to matter most is that canvassers are experienced.”

Despite the inaccurate results in LaCour’s study, Broockman and Kalla were ultimately able to prove that the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s canvassing technique was effective.

“What we found suggests that campaigns might have more success than they expect trying to talk with people that have initially opposing views, even regarding controversial topics and across partisan lines,” Broockman told Insights.