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NYT Article on Efficacy of Personal Advocacy

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A New York Times article describes a study showing that personal advocacy can change minds, contrasting and comparing the success of gay advocates of same-sex marriage going door to door vs. straight advocates of the same and either no advocacy at all or a talk about recycling:






The study, published Thursday by the journal Science, suggests that a 20-minute conversation about a controversial and personal issue — in this case a gay person talking to voters about same-sex marriage — can induce a change in attitude that not only lasts, but may also help shift the views of others living in the same household. In other words, the change may be contagious. Researchers have published similar findings previously, but nothing quite as rigorous has highlighted the importance of the messenger, as well as the message.



Mr. LaCour and Donald P. Green, a professor of political science at Columbia, designed an experiment that mimicked a drug trial. They recruited 972 voters from these precincts, broadly surveyed their attitudes — including on same-sex marriage — and then randomly assigned them to receive either the “treatment” or a placebo. The treatment in this case was a knock on the door and a scripted conversation, initiated by either an openly gay canvasser or a straight one. The placebo was either a talk about recycling or no canvassing at all. “Instead of robotically delivering the message, we coached canvassers to be respectful, to listen, to ask questions and dig deeper, and not to judge voters,” said Dave Fleischer, director of the leadership lab at the LGBT Center.


The result: Voters canvassed on marriage shifted by about 20 percent in favor of same-sex equality, as measured on a five-point scale of support. Both straight and gay canvassers shifted opinions, but only the opinions of voters canvassed by gays remained as favorable on surveys nine months after initial contact. Voters canvassed on recycling did not budge.


“I truly did not expect to see this,” Dr. Green said. “I thought attitudes on issues like this were fundamentally stable over time, but my view has now changed.”


The study also found evidence that participants’ changed views affected the thinking of others in the same household. Surveys of those households showed smaller but significant shifts in the same direction, particularly when the issue was in the news, as in 2013, when a Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California.


This suggests that engagement, dialogue, and education does more to change people's minds in a lasting way than more hostile or confrontational tactics.

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When I came out - close to 40 years ago - a group of gay guys met weekly as an informal discussion group. Coming out was already being discussed as a way to change minds and raise visibility.


I recently met a work colleague who is a Southern Baptist, now volunteering with the company's LGBT Resource Group. She admits she's the stereotype of the person who is assumed to fight any type of gay equality. She and her husband recently met a gay couple in the neighborhood. Through conversations, she discovered that gays "are just people" - and is now working to improve diversity and inclusion in our workplace.


It's amazing what conversations can accomplish.

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  • 5 months later...

It is common knowledge that most people are resistant to change whether it is founded in something new or something different. It would be great if the increasing awareness and integration of homosexuals into American society would take the ball to the goal line, but my cynicism has me believing it's the ole' bottom line that is the most effective driving force. Things really began to move when advertisers realized how much more discretionary income there is to be had from DINK (dual income no kids) households. This has spread in all directions--high-end apparel, high-end automobiles, investments, real estate, and travel, to name some. Even state legislatures have changed their tunes concerning homosexual rights when faced with the possible loss of sports events and corporate relocations, expansions and/or conventions. It looks like North Carolina is next for the cold shower of fiscal reality. I'm for whatever it takes, but unless the Supreme Court comes through with a solid supportive decision for marriage equality, I fear the pursuit of happiness in America is going to continue to be a steep climb for homosexuals.

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