Lessons from This Summer’s Historic LGBT Victories

Guest post by Brad Luna and Kristofer Eisenla of LUNA+EISENLA Media.

This is a guest post by Brad Luna and Kristofer Eisenla, co-founders of Washington, D.C.’s LUNA+EISENLA Media.

What a difference a summer can make!  What’s usually seen as a slow time in the news cycle, the summer of 2015 has been anything but for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Beginning with the historic 5-4 ruling on June 26th, the United States Supreme Court upheld the rights of same-sex couples to marry nationwide–capping off a decades-long effort to secure the freedom to marry. Then less than a month later, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made headlines by announcing a blockbuster decision paving the way for transgender troops to serve openly in our country’s armed forces.

Both of these victories could not have been perceived as possible, much less achievable, only a few years ago.  A quick look at Gallup’s historical trends on the question of whether same-sex couples should be able to legally marry shows a shockingly sharp trend upward since they first posed the question to the American public back in 1996.  The public’s support on marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples has jumped 37 percentage points in less than twenty years.  The favorability of transgender Americans demonstrates a similar, upward trend with a gain of 18 points in less than four years, according to national polling conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

We have had the honor of working in a supportive role in these historic LGBT victories by representing key organizations at the center of both efforts–the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ plaintiff couples in the U.S. SCOTUS marriage case and the Palm Center, whose groundbreaking research on transgender service in the U.S. military has helped provide the intellectual underpinning for the move towards open and inclusive service.

Throughout our experience, many significant lessons became clear in the fight for full equality – lessons all public relations professionals can takeaway in helping to design campaigns that sway public opinion and secure long-lasting wins for their clients.

Some of the most evident lessons include the following:

  • Personal Stories Matter.  A lot!  From same-sex couples who’ve been together over 50 years to transgender Navy Seals serving our country on the front-lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, personal stories are instrumental pieces of a successful public awareness campaign.  These two victories didn’t happen on an esoteric level; rather they were made relatable by telling the real-life stories of those impacted the most.
  • Research and expertise are the new rhetoric.  The best source material for a reporter is credible and legitimate research that helps shape an argument in an unbiased way.  It’s hard to argue that lifting the ban on transgender troops in the military will be detrimental to unit cohesion when the experience of 18 other countries who already allow transgender troops to serve, supported by the expertise and knowledge of former military commanders, point to the exact opposite conclusion.
  • Value based arguments move public opinion.  What kind of country do we want to live in?  That’s the central question at the heart of the LGBT community’s arguments to the general public on the issue of equality.  Best estimates are that only 8 million – or 3.5 percent – of the adult population in the U.S. identifies as LGBT.  However, arguments based on value propositions help those who may not see a direct impact to their own lives still see their part in the final outcome.

The truth is, there are dozens of reasons why the LGBT community has seen the efforts of many come to stunning fruition in recent years.  Breaking down barriers and opening doors takes hard work from the ground-up, and the LGBT community’s banner summer contains many lessons for communications and media professionals.  As the march for full equality continues, keep an eye on the LGBT community as they continue to teach all of us how to mount effective campaigns and win results.

Brad Luna and Kristofer Eisenla are the founders of LUNA+EISENLA media, a strategic communications and media firm based in Washington, D.C.