Meet My Child: Strategic Storytelling Can Change the Narrative About Transgender Issues

05/13/2016 03:28 pm ET Updated May 14, 2017

In less than 48 hours, 1.5 million Facebook users watched the video about three moms and their transgender kids.

As the national debate about LGBT equality focuses on "bathroom bills," which discriminate against transgender people and others, the Hattaway team worked with our partners at the Trans United Fund to help drive a new narrative by showing families from different backgrounds supporting their transgender children. The response shows that strategic storytelling can change hearts and minds on this issue.

Meet My Child got nearly 1.5 million views via Facebook in its first two days. Comments flooded in from people who were moved by the stories of three moms and their transgender children, including some viewers who said the video changed their minds on the "bathroom issue."

This family-oriented approach to re-framing the debate was inspired by our work on marriage equality. Our team produced one of the early TV ads on the topic during the battle for marriage in Massachusetts, the first state to allow same-sex marriages. That ad featured a young man talking about his two moms and the meaning of their marriage. Focus group research showed that people from many different backgrounds could relate to the family's story.

Most people recognize that families come in all shapes and sizes. We respect parents who stand up for their children. And we're moved to protect children who are threatened. Content that speaks to these values can move millions.

The "focus on family" strategy turns the tables on politicians who are demonizing transgender people and stirring up fears about predators in public restrooms. The moms in our video send a powerful message to the politicians and an invitation to all: Meet my child. Hear my family's story. Learn about this issue.

The response to the video shows that many people are interested in learning more. YouTube data showed that an astonishing 76 percent of those viewing the video were also reading a post about it or looking up information on another website while watching it. Clearly, many people are looking to learn more.

In an article about Meet My Child, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) cites research showing fewer than 20 percent of Americans know someone who is transgender. An Equality Federation spokesperson says, "Humanizing (transgender people) is critical. It reduces that fear factor."

The Hattaway team has been working on this issue with several clients and partners. A Media Map analysis we conducted last year found that opponents of LGBT equality were on the offensive in multiple states, using "bathroom bills" to re-frame the public conversation about LGBT issues in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made marriage equality the law of the land. Voices for equality were visible in the state-level conversation, but they did not deliver clear or consistent messages.

Much work remains to be done to counter the fear-mongering. Communications research demonstrates the power of framing the conversation around families and can shed light on other approaches that can help drive a new narrative about transgender equality.

If you'd like to learn more about this issue, strategic storytelling or communications research, please contact info@hattaway.com.

Doug Hattaway is president of Hattaway Communications, a strategic communications firm that draws on insights, tools and techniques from the social sciences, business and politics to help visionary leaders and organizations achieve great things.