Column: Two Times Zero Is Still Zero

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Have you seen the new trans-positive ad that’s going to run on FOX the final night of the Republican National Convention? It’s a really terrific piece of advertising…that is, if you’re someone who’s neutral or supportive of transgender rights.

However, if you’re as conservative as most of FOX’s viewers are, chances are you’ll be tuning out and going to make a snack…unless, of course, you’re too busy throwing stuff at your TV screen.

One of the most basic rules of effective media and advertising is to know your audience and target your content to that audience. To have an impact you must speak your audience’s language and focus on things they care about. That’s why you don’t see football players in tampon commercials or little old ladies selling beer.

Television time is expensive and so advertisers do everything they can to maximize the bang for their advertising buck by couching their sales pitches in terms which will be most appealing to the people they hope will be interested in what they’re selling, be it a product, political candidate or even an idea. Those who make the mistake of marketing based on their own tastes rather than those of their audiences will usually find far less success than those who keep the interests of their customers paramount instead of their own.

That’s why it’s inexplicable to me that the National Center for Transgender Equality and the other organizations funding this campaign are throwing away so much money running an ad like this on FOX, during the RNC no less.

If the losing fight to prevent the repeal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) taught us anything, it’s that this kind of appeal to the sense of justice and fair play of a conservative audience simply doesn’t work.

Conservatives have consistently demonstrated that they’re predisposed to vilify and disparage those unlike themselves and will flock to support initiatives which attack and discriminate against those who differ from what they consider the norm, be it because of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, religion or anything else they see as a threat to their own way of life and system of beliefs.

This kind of low-key, positive ad would undoubtedly work well in appealing to liberal and neutral audiences, but it’s all but certain to be tuned out and ignored by conservatives, as evidenced by the crushing 61 to 39 percent repeal of HERO.

Activist organizations led by the Human Rights Campaign completely and utterly failed to sway hearts and minds by trying to appeal to Houstonians’ better natures in the face of a pro-repeal campaign, which focused on preventing men from entering women’s bathrooms, promoting an explicit message that trans women are not only actually men but sexual predators as well.

It wasn’t the positive message these organizations tried to promote which Houston voters heard, but rather the “No Men In Women’s Bathrooms” slogan promoted by repeal proponents which won the hearts and minds of conservatives voters, resulting in HERO’s repeal by a massive 22 percent margin.

The lessons to be learned here are obvious, but it doesn’t seem that our activist organizations and those funding this ad are willing to learn from past mistakes. They continue to attempt to speak to conservatives as if they’re part of their own liberal constituency instead of who they truly are, people who must be convinced and their beliefs challenged, spoken to in terms they can and will understand and relate to.

With the RNC making anti-LGBT discrimination a centerpiece of its 2016 national platform, it’s difficult to see how this kind of lukewarm pleading to understand trans people without challenging any of the bigoted notions about us being actively promoted by the RNC rank and file can be considered a credible tactic for challenging the anti-trans views popularly held by the right.

It’s long past time our activists finally pulled their heads out of the sand and started fighting back. We are at war here and the time for polite begging is long over.

We won’t win this debate without challenging the lies of our opponents. Trying to make people feel guilty about barring someone who they see as a sexual predator from using the bathroom accomplishes nothing. Directly and effectively challenging and disproving the underlying myth is the tactic that will have real impact.

The GOP has been very effective in appealing to conservative’s fear of difference and getting them to believe that trans people are a threat to their safety. If we’re to win these people over, we have to meet this challenge head-on and on their turf.

We don’t have home field advantage here. We’re the visiting team, and it’s time our activists finally started acting like they get that.


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