An important component of any LGBT nondiscrimination campaign is demonstrating again and again why these protections are important – and that they already have broad support from a wide array of community members.
Through stories of people impacted by discrimination and people who support non-discrimination protections, we can make the urgent case for passing these protections and help demonstrate the diversity of support that already exists for comprehensive non-discrimination laws. This resource focuses on written “profile” stories for campaign websites – generally 4-6 paragraphs summarizing the person’s unique story or experience in the community, voicing their support for non-discrimination laws or ordinances, and making the case for quick passage of these protections.
See examples of written stories with Freedom for All Americans’ “American Voices for Freedom.”
Why We Collect Stories
Beyond the obvious – that stories provide consistent, engaging content for online campaigns – the process of collecting and executing these stories serves many purposes and impacts many different facets of a campaign. We collect stories and devote effort to this process for several reasons:
- To showcase the broad range of people who support non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.
- To package key talking points and messages in a more entertaining, readable framework and model important messages for supporters.
- To model for our supporters – especially soft supporters – the variety of people who are taking action in support of non-discrimination protections and illustrating that these campaigns are for the entire community.
- To build trust and relationships with community members we profile and open the door to higher levels of campaign engagement.
- To identify potential contacts for traditional communications work – op-ed authors, pitched stories, or connecting reporters with strong voices – fundraising asks, stories for field organizers, etc.
- To help potential media contacts better understand ways to talk about non-discrimination laws and key language/messages.
- To identify additional subjects for online stories and social media content – parents, friends, high-level community partners.
- To give our supporters a way to connect with the campaign on a personal level and get invested in the work.
- To produce content that we can share on social media, pitch to bloggers, and generally use to put a face on this issue.
Stories to Collect
With each campaign, we’re aiming for a broad cross-section of the community that would be impacted by a non-discrimination law or ordinance. We want to feature LGBT people who need these protections, but perhaps more importantly, we need to feature non-LGBT allies who support these protections and are working to make them a reality. Here are some of the key stories we look for:
- LGB and especially transgender people impacted negatively by discrimination
- LGBT people who have had positive experiences in the workplace, school, or housing
- Family members (parents, grandparents, siblings, children) of LGBT people who support non-discrimination
- Family members (parents, grandparents, siblings, children) of LGBT people who have journeyed to support non-discrimination protections
- Straight families, especially those with kids.
- Conservatives and Republicans
- Business leaders and small business owners
- Servicemembers and Military Veterans
- People of faith and faith leaders
- First responders: Police officers, firefighters, health professionals
- Civil rights leaders or community leaders
- Important for all categories: Emphasize people of color, people with strong photos, strong speakers who could ultimately be good for media
The Importance of Photos
We can’t emphasize enough the need for strong photos to pair with these online profiles. If possible, 6-7 photos of the subject should accompany the written profile, especially pictures that demonstrate a community involvement or action and clearly identify who the subject of the story is. Some guidelines:
- The strongest photos are those taken with an actual camera, usually casting the subject in the context of their community. A headshot is fine, for example, but a photo with the subject at work, with their family, or at a community event is even stronger.
- Group shots are OK, but there should be at least one photo featuring the subject on their own so readers can clearly identify who they are reading about.
- Avoid dark, grainy photos, anything out of focus, or selfies.
- Think about the context of the profile. For example, if we are profiling someone because they are a police officer in their community, at least one of the photos should include them in their uniform or demonstrate some connection to law enforcement. If we are profiling someone because they are the parent of an LGBT individual, at least one photo should include the parent with their child. If we are profiling a business person, a photo in the context of a workplace is preferable to a casual “at home” picture.
- Remember that these photos will be used alongside the written profile, but also on the website homepage, in social media graphics, and potentially in other campaign imagery – so the more that we can understand just from looking at the photo, the better.
- Whenever possible, ask for originals – not pictures taken from Facebook.
- We always need permission to use any of the photos – from the subject, but sometimes also the photographer (if the pictures are professional).
Finding and Recruiting New Messengers
Tracking down some of these stories can be a challenge at first, but there are a few strategies for proactively finding them (beyond distributing intake forms):
- Connect with existing groups doing similar work or any organizing around LGBT issues. There are countless Facebook groups, Yahoo groups and other communities of people who have plenty to say about why non-discrimination matters, but they’re often unaffiliated with a specific campaign or organization. Reaching out to these groups can yield some great responses.
- Capitalize on social media channels and staffers’ personal networks – ask friends and neighbors living in these states for anyone who vaguely fits the description, and work from there.
- Set an example with strong stories on the state campaigns: People will see what you’re doing and message you on their own without even being asked. On any profile or story, the page should prominently end with a “Share Your Story” button inviting readers to consider sharing their own story
- Research old news articles, Google people who are quoted about anti-discrimination efforts, marriage, or transgender issues in news stories, etc.
- Connect with local legal teams who work on civil rights issues. They won’t share client info with you, but they may keep your campaign in mind when clients come to them who they can’t take on for cases.
- Don’t be afraid to be proactive about stories: If there’s an LGBT-affirming group in a Church community or a monthly gay potluck or a popular video blogger or anything like that, a simple message or phone call can often yield a few strong stories.
After identifying subjects for stories, the process is usually quite streamlined and easy. The steps:
- Send over information on the campaign, including any fact sheets or messaging points, to get the subject acquainted with the campaign and help them to internalize the language we use when talking about non-discrimination.
- Find a time for a 15-20 minute interview with the person. Before you talk, send over 4-5 questions and ask them to briefly answer the question. This will give you a framework for who they are and what they care about and help guide your phone interview with them. Underline that they shouldn’t spend too much time on the questionnaire, because you’ll have time to talk on the phone.
- During the interview, either record the conversation (ask their permission ahead of time) or transcribe while you’re on the phone. Follow the conversation, making sure to get in a few key questions. We’re looking for anecdotes about their love for the community or their family members, detailed descriptions of discrimination they have encountered, colorful quotes about why they want their state to be a welcoming place, etc.
- At the end of the call, explain that someone from the team will be drafting their story and will share the full draft with them before it is published anywhere.
- At the end of the call, also ask for them to start gathering some photos, and ask if anyone else comes to mind who may be good for a profile – a straight neighbor, a family member, etc.
- The interviewer or writer should draft their story within a week or two (3-4 paragraphs), then email it to the subject for approval.
- At some point in this process, ask the subject if they’re OK with us sending media requests their way, if any come in.
- Keep in touch with the subject after the story is published. Send them the link. Send them the post when it goes on Facebook or Twitter. Encourage them to share with their networks. And email them about any key developments in the campaign – making this personal connection is important to ensure that these people stay engaged and feel appreciated.
The Importance of the Phone Interview
It can’t be overstated how important a quick phone interview with each subject is. Here’s why:
- People are better at articulating their thoughts when they don’t have to write them down.
- You can ask follow-up questions, dig for more details, or ask someone to continue sharing something that they maybe didn’t think would be that important.
- You can ask about other people in their life who may be good to speak with for a potential profile.
- A 15-minute phone call will nearly always lead to a better, more unique story and build the relationship with the subject intangibly.