Canvassing has long been used as a means to spread political messages among voters, often met with mixed results and many unanswered doorbells. But when it comes to transgender issues, a groundbreaking new study has found that door-to-door outreach can profoundly change people's perspectives over the long-term when conducted by a trans person themselves or a community ally.
The report, published Thursday in the journal "Science," used a method co-authors David Broockman and Joshua Kalla call "deep canvassing," a term coined by the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Rather than delivering a short script to voters, deep canvassing focuses on longer, 10- to 15-minute interactions that center around personal stories (see the video above).
These brief, in-person conversations, which were conducted by the South Florida LGBTQ advocacy group SAVE along with the Los Angeles LGBT Center, resulted in 1 in 10 voters becoming less prejudiced against transgender people and increased support for the inclusion of trans people in non-discrimination laws. The results mirrored a similar shift in prejudice towards the gay and lesbian community that took place over a much longer time period between 1998 and 2012.
Broockman told The Huffington Post that the study's success is a product of a simple expression: "People are complicated." The on-the-fly discussions allow individual voters to think on shared experiences with transgender people, and as such, the authors found deep canvassing was successful across many demographics -- including political affiliation, age, race and gender. The decline in prejudice also held up over time, even after voters were shown attack ads that portrayed anti-transgender stereotypes six weeks after the initial canvassing visit.
The results are particularly apt after North Carolina passed one of the most discriminatory laws in history last month that will force transgender people to use a bathroom corresponding to the gender they were assigned at birth instead of the gender with which they currently identify. At least seven other states are considering similar restrictions as a wave of misinformation deemed a "hostile takeover of human rights" spreads.
One of the attack ads canvassers showed voters six weeks after researcher's initial visit.
David Fleischer, the director of the Los Angeles LGBT Center's Leadership LAB, said these interpersonal interactions can help voters remember their own lived experiences and then compare them to those faced by the transgender community.
A frequent canvasser himself, Fleischer said the off-script model enables a sense of deep connection that can spark a change in perspective.
"I ask people to think back to when somebody judged them or someone they love," he told The Huffington Post. "'Do you see a connection between how those people are making you feel and how you might be making a transgender person feel when you're worried about just being at the next sink or the next stall?' We help voters remember and then speak aloud their own real lived experience that is most analogous to the experience at hand."
Broockman said the study is one of the first to link together practitioners and researchers, and the results should serve as an important benchmark for future progress, particularly because there are some areas where "there are just not enough transgender people to knock on every door."
But Fleischer said it's heartening to see canvassing as an effective tool across such a cross-section of people, and using allies alongside those with direct experience could serve as an effective model to help halt discriminatory proposals before they're signed into law.
"We wish prejudice to be less than it is, but the truth is, we have to do this piece of work," Fleischer said. "I don't see progress as being automatic."