Alex Blaze

Messaging message

Filed By Alex Blaze | December 07, 2008 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: gay rights, LGBT, lgbt bloggers summit, messaging, rhetoric, tim mcfeeley

Tim McFeeley, former HRC director and Task Force Policy Institute director, is talking about messaging now at the LGBT bloggers summit. He's talking about moving LGBT rights messaging from "us" to "America" and had these following suggestions. I don't have time to put up all the background that he had, but what do you all think?

Move fromto
Gay workers need government protectionAmerica deserves discrimination free workplaces
Lesbians should have the right to serve in the militaryAmerica needs the strongest military we can find
We deserve same rights as straight married peopleMarriage is good for families and our nation
LGBT people must have equal right to adopt childrenEvery child in America deserves a loving home
America is a bad place for LGBT peopleLet's make America a good place for all

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

I couldn't agree more. I've been writing lately about the need to make these American issues, not gay issues. Equality is an American principle, this is what needs to be stressed. This should be every American's cause.

Further more, we shouldn't do this alone. Generally it takes the majority reaching out to the minority to make progress. Think of women and blacks. So, yes, we need to appeal to America.

References to LGBT, gay, lesbian are erased and our rights are unmentionable? What has this guy been smoking, Boathouse Farms carrots? Why doesn't Tim McFeeley suggest we all go back in the closet? Similar to the NoOnProp8 ads, no gays because focus groups don't think it goes over well with religious freaks. I can't help but laugh at these bureacrats with their pie charts, statistics and generic language. These are groups that maneuver words into politically correct sound bites, but have no passion to take action for change.

This summit sounds really interesting...wish I were there...but I am not a blogger, just a commenter...and we don't get instructions on how to deliver "the message."

As much as I would have liked to participate in something like this, it did feel somewhat creepy that there was a focus on building up the infrastructure of assimilation instead of a brainstorming session on how to resist mainstream, compromised, politicized strategies that have created failure after failure in the past 15 years.

Herding bloggers is hopefully about as successful as herding cats. I hope that participants are there to report what kinds of messages are being included in the national kool-aid that being served to the blog readers. That is much more interesting and encouraging than having bloggers cooperate in the serving of stepfordian medicine (are you listening Mr. Crawford or are you too busy kissing the ass above you on the ladder toward LGBT leadership?).

The ideas for new/old narrative is very telling. This makes it sound like there WAS some kind of organized movement around using language that identifies LGBTs in political discourse and he thinks we should NOT do that.

Isn't it one of the main complaints against the inept No on 8 campaign that they avoided identifying the population that is harmed by amendments? Isn't every one of his "reframes" exactly what No on 8 did to secure failure?

This summit sounds more like a brainswashing session than anything else.

That IS the messaging that was used in No on 8 and, it didn't work.

Patrick, I know the tensions are high on the other thread, but Michael Crawford doesn't deserve that. He has a clear set of values and a vision for what he wants to accomplish, and, yeah, sometimes that will clash. Especially with folks like me. But he's not a flack and he's a definite asset to this community.

I hope that the discussion of what to do can be issues and actions based, not personal. And, I know, I'll probably be the first to mess up, so feel free to bookmark this comment and redirect me to it. :)

I've had my moments with Ms. Crawford too. Personalities should not get in the way of principles, I (reluctantly) agree.

He does serve as an example of that kind of "within the system" thinking that MUST be examined and criticized - and defended, if there is any value in it.

I will refrain from egging you on...but I do think that Kate Kendall and Geoff Kors should be audited and run out of town.

Chris Daley | December 7, 2008 4:15 PM

Patrick -

I have no idea how well you know Geoff or Kate or their accomplishments for our community over the last 15 years or so. Your description of them and your call for their terminations run 100% counter to my experiences with them. While you and I can disagree, I really hope you're basing your accusations on real information and aren't just lashing out at the two of them because they are convenient targets.


I'm sure that Kate and Geoff are fine people. I don't know them, but i have received lots of email from them.

or i did before November 4.

They ran a losing campaign. People that run a losing campaign - especially people like Geoff that (as far as I know) are paid by one of the organizations in charge - should take responsibility for the defeat and resign.

Instead we hear from post-mortem meetings about how the rest of us need to get on board to the losing arguments and do better next time. We didn't do enough work to create jobs for these "smart" gays or we didn't raise enough money for them to deliver more "focus group" messages to people.

It is just more of the same crap for the past 30 years. Harvey Milk didn't need $40 million dollars to defeat Prop 6 30 years ago - pre internet, pre-outing, pre gay exposure everywhere.

Has all of the $40 million been spent?

I think money should that money be given to fund/support more bloggers to create an activist system that will do more for LGBT citizens looking for an outlet and a purpose.

We don't need anymore Barney Franks. We don't need any more HRCs. We don't need to build up any more gay middle of the road / work within the system / Democratic party sycophants.

They have had their chance and it is time to return to what worked - 30 years ago.

Thanks for not egging me on! Michael can definitely speak up for himself, but I'll just say that while I disagree with him on many issues (not Obama, though!), I've always found him to be a person of strong principles. So stifling his opinion just to "kiss ass" isn't the Michael I know, and I've worked with him on this site for over a year.

I'm agnostic right now on specific people in California and whether they should stick around. But honestly I'd like to see the "leadership" of that movement overrun with grassroots folks willing to organize many smaller projects, with whatever leaders around just organizing. And then I'd hope we'd have a strong community media (both on and off line) criticizing those folks, providing ideas, and sparking discussion among people from all over the country. For that, the rest of us would work to raise funds to get the message out.

basically, no matter who they are next time around, they should not have so much power and they should not be so insular. If I were handed $40M to run that campaign, I'd suck up a storm, and so would anyone. But I'd hope I'd at least be listening when others had ideas and work with as big a team as possible to see what's the best path to take.

This looks suspiciously like the same strategy used in California and Arizona -- talk about anyone but gay people. It looks like our national organizations still don't want to learn anything from their failures.

I second what Charles and Patrick said. Not impressed with the assimilationist and closet-y nature of this new language. We can do better. We can achieve equality without sacrificing our uniqueness or our history.

What I find most bothersome, the "column b" language seems to make the past invisible, avoids mention of the history and current realities of discrimination, and minimizes the sacrifices and tragedies that have come before. Nobody wants a movement mired down in pure victimhood rhetoric, but there's a place for respectful acknowledgment of our struggles in moving forward.

I understand the importance of respecting, remembering, and integrating the long path that brings us to today. It is certainly important for everyone to be aware of those facts and somehow incorporate them in the campaign. However, I usually don't respond well to people who constantly play the victim card, even though it is often warranted. If we truly seek an inclusive America, then I think we should use inclusive language in our campaigns. Not while forgetting or ignoring that past, but by being informed by it.

These idiots (the summit know-it-alls) think we live in a post-gay world.

I think they need to see Milk and pay close attention to what happened in the middle of the film at the start of the Prop 6 campaign.

The lesson was learned 30 years ago that hiding in the closet is the quickest route to certain failure.

What happened to any of the momentum that began 30 years ago?

Why did the streets of SF get filled with angry demonstrations 30 years ago when a handful of other communities repealed equality ordinances yet in the past 8 years 30 states have had amendments passed before anyone dared to get angry?

I have a theory. In the years following Milk the idea that change would be inevitable as a result of working within the system became very popular and successful - but only for the people that put themselves in the system; people like Geoff Kors and Kate Kendall.

The closet door was opened, we felt liberated. We participated in identity politics to gain power and money and position and we used it to advance our own personal interests. Instead of spreading opportunity to those outside of the wonk/pundit/lobbyist circles the gay movement learned how to participate in self aggrandizement as a way to achieve equality.

Its the trickle down theory of social justice.

And like the trickle down theory of economics, it has proven to be corrupt and ineffective if not completely destructive.

Don't listen to these people, Alex. They are the snake oil salespeople of the LGBT movement. We need a summit of the people that are ready to resist this self serving crap.

Just trying to get this discussion back on the right track....

I don't think that Tim was making a statement about content of the message with his statement up there, but about the way it's said. That is, for the first pair, instead of showing a lesbian couple sad because they lost their marriage, show a determined and strong lesbian couple who already deserve the right to marry. Etc.

Another example would be the workers item: instead of showing queer people who are down and out because they lost their jobs, plug that into the greater promise of a fair and productive workplace.

I'm not saying I agree with this or not, and it's hard to get it all across because there was a lot more information here than I can possibly post about, but Tim was not, to my knowledge, asking the movement to closet itself. He was critical of several strategies used in California.

Fair enough, Alex. One of the dangers of this list, then, is when people try to use it outside of full context. I'm a fan of Equality California's preferred phrase "marriage equality" - but I refuse to use it without specific reference to the LGBT community. I suppose the phrases on this list have the same potential...

"Every child in America deserves a loving home, like those that can be provided by queer parents."

"America deserves discrimination free workplaces, yet gay, lesbian and bisexual people can be legally discriminated against in 30 states, and 43 allow discrimination against transgender people. We can do better."

There is definitely a context to all of these. That's another lesson to learn about messaging here (that tim didn't go into): contextualizing a message. While a bunch of words describing prop 8 from papers (like in one ad) might for a more educated, secular audience, it's not going to work for a Christian audience.

But with all those messages, like you said, we have to be in there. Like your adoption example, in an ad on that we'd then show a couple of adopted kids with their gay dads, having fun or doing homework. The focus is on the family and getting people used to the idea of a family with two dads and to think about how these kids are benefiting from that relationship, not the legal troubles the dads would face or telling people that the proposed adoption ban is unfair to the gays in an abstract sense.

i should add, right before going to bed, that i don't know if that's the best idea for messaging, just that that was my understanding of what tim was trying to get across.

It's a bit hard to evaluate some of these without context.

OTOH, I do think it's useful to reframe things to universalize them, as in the military example, since that frankly is more effective argument. One key to effective selling -- and convincing people to change their view is sales -- is that you have talk about the benefits/rationale from the other person's POV. (Of course, this assumes they're open-minded enough to even have a conversation.)

OTOH, completing ignoring the points from Column A will be wrongheaded on several counts. First, as others mentions, it ignores the past and present. Second, it leads down the road to mushy Prop.-8-ads ineffectualness. Not just because it fails to mention LGBT are involved, but it becomes akin to the all those corporate mission statements that are abstracted into meaningless.

Admittedly, it is a challenge. There is value in taking a step back to the broader view. One famous example is how the railroaded failed to grok they were in the transportation business not the railroad business -- which blinded them lots opportunities.

But it is doable. Just as one can write a business mission statement that says "we're in the transportation business, currently via railroads," we can combine the two sets of ideas. For example, it's really not much as stretch to say that "America deserves the best workforce it can get, therefore we need ENDA."

However, there are bits that seem inherently problematic to me, such as the "marriage is good for families and our nation" framing, which others not only single parents (gay or straight) but also anyone who prefers to be in a unmarried LTR or who prefers to be single.

That sort of positive messaging works well in corporate settings, or when trying to persuade a city council to pass GLBT legislation. But to defend an existing law, as with Prop 8, you need much more righteous indignation. What the Prop 8 battle teaches is the need to show the other side in the light they deserve to be shown in - as people who do not believe in equal rights for all, who want the right to discriminate, and who are mean-spirited and wish to hurt people and tear apart their relationships. In a defensive action, like the upcoming battle in Gainesville, the enemy (and they are the enemy) must be advertised as being evil, mean-spirited thieves of human rights. The YouTube ad with the lesbian couple having their rings and marriage license destroyed by Mormon missionaries invading their home, was an effective example.

Thanks, Alex. I assumed that was the point of the discussion. As I said early, not playing the victim card.

"Another example would be the workers item: instead of showing queer people who are down and out because they lost their jobs, plug that into the greater promise of a fair and productive workplace."

Wishful thinking. The global economic collapse is just beginning. Not surprised if Tim McFeeley will be out of a job. Non profit's are the first to go depending on donations.

Chris Daley | December 7, 2008 4:30 PM

So many of the comments on this thread are familiar to me. When I started working on the Transgender Law Center back in 2001, one of our advisory board members and occassional Bilerico blogger, Simon Aronoff, gave me a copy of Fenton Communication's "Now Hear This." If you haven't already read it, you can download a copy for free at:

When I read it the first time, I felt a little dirty afterwards (for many of the reasons stated in this thread) and had to push myself to read through it a second time. Once I did, I began to agree with the guide's basic premise: we have to meet people where they are if we're going to move them where we want them to be.

Having not been there I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing that Tim's talk had a similar theme. And this really is one of the moments in a movement where we can decide a direction forward: do we keep producing messages that sound good to us and resonate with people who agree with us or do we craft messages that are more accessible to people who are neutral or who disagree with us with the expectation that, over time, these messages will win out?

Of course, there is some room for negotiation between those two positions, but a lot (not all, of course) of the feedback I've heard/read about Prop 8 has been squarely in the "the messages didn't resonate with me or people I know" camp. It would be a shame if, as a community, that is where we end up on this conversation.

This couldn't be more blatantly sanitized.

Basically, they're saying that gays shouldn't play the victims, even though they are victims of a heterosexist society. This is a textbook response of patriarchal victim-blaming. "Toughen up!"

The appalling defeats in California, Arizona and Florida were in each case the result of the political and technical bankruptcy of a layer of unelected misleaders associated with the Democrat party.

No on 8 and HRC are prime examples. They operate top down with a self appointed leadership. The kind of reality checks that come from a democratic internal life are entirely absent. The level of their political competence would be laughable if it hadn’t led to our recent setbacks.

The movement needs three things and needs them badly.

First we need a complete organizational overhaul that brings democracy to decision making. No more unelected leaders like HRC and their backroom deals with hustling politicians like Frank and Obama. Those who misled and mismanaged our efforts should be summarily dismissed. If they have real ideas or skills that will be discovered in a democratically run organization.

The second is a break with the Democrat and Republican parties. You'd think that a few decades of looking at the undercarriage of a bus would be an educational experience, and it is for tens of millions, but not for those whose naiveté is their salient political attribute. The leadership of the Democrat party time an again prove themselves to be our enemies. Our movement needs to be independent of them.

Third we need to cultivate alliances with other movements independent of the Democrat and Republican parties. The labor movement is waking up under the impact of the recession/maybe depression. The initiative is shifting from AFL-CIO HQ in DC to groups like the workers at Republic who began a sit-down strike in Chicago yesterday and the UAW locals determined not to let their union be destroyed. We'll also find allies in the antiwar movement and the fights for women’s rights and against racism and immigrant bashing. We should cultivate them. (The one thing HRC did right in the last few years was to go to Jenna La. to show our support for the fight against the Klan.

As for ‘power, equality, excellence, responsibility, reconciliation’, those are at best meaningless catch phrases. What's needed is not more drivel but a determined effort to remake our movement into in a massive, militant, democratic movement.

GLBT workers don't just need government protection they need to help create stronger unions. US workers certainly don't need a stronger military because it'll be used against us as economic dysfunction creates political instability. Obama will need a stronger military, just like LBJ and Nixon, when he escalates but he'll find that the GI antiwar movement can wreck the best laid plans of rats and hustlers.

I think it is good to re-frame the way we talk about things but the column of "to" is frighteningly neoliberal and thus will end up pushing homonormativity on those who don't wish to be normative. I wonder if there is a way for us to talk about issues that doesn't set one group of people as the "good LGBTs" and those who don't fit in as "problems". Normitivity is good and desirable for some and the opposite for others. How do we talk about issues with out vilifying one group and exalting the other.

I'm thinking the same thing, although it's hard to imagine messaging that wouldn't erase some people's experiences. Maybe the focus could be on experiences and not people? I dunno.

Some of the items I think are good here, now that I've had a little time (the car ride back to Indiana) to think about them. Like "portraits" to "landscapes," which Tim explained as stopping talking about specific situations/people/stories and focusing instead on broader statistics and repeating themes. I also like "excellence" instead of "equality" because, honestly, I'm just not feeling the equality message anymore. Let's try to be the best we can be, which may or may not be the same at any given juncture.

But back to your question, I think that can be helped with multiple messaging to multiple audiences, moving away from a desire to "control" message (as many of these groups have), and helping people to develop their own visions for the future instead of just naming problems.

I don't know if that would satisfy what Tim's talking about, but I take from what he was saying a general idea of moving away from discussing the present and move to discussing the future as we'd like to see it. I think that, as a supplement to what's going on now, that would help people to visualize what we're asking for and also to start to normalize those demands.

I noticed that Tim's importance was focused specifically on "gay and lesbian" issues. Because of his standard omission of ALL of the community, I would not be prone to take his speech with any importance, or relevance.

I wouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water. Good ideas are good ideas -- although honestly much of it seems to be just applying basic tenets of framing messages as taught in branding, consultative selling and targeted marketing. (Again, the message needs to be convincing to the person who you're trying to convince, not to the person doing the convincing.)

Do I wish Tim had included a point or two that touched on bisexual and trans issues? Yes. Am I surprised, given his background, that he didn't bother to? Sadly, not really.

But there's nothing to stop others -- as they're discussing them -- from rewriting those points to be more inclusive. Nor also doing so when they're put forth to the larger public.

Rewriting the points. Not a bad idea, Lena.

I wouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water. Good ideas are good ideas -- although honestly much of it seems to be just applying basic tenets of framing messages as taught in branding, consultative selling and targeted marketing. (Again, the message needs to be convincing to the person who you're trying to convince, not to the person doing the convincing.)

Do I wish Tim had included a point or two that touched on bisexual and trans issues? Yes. Am I surprised, given his background, that he didn't bother to? Sadly, not really.

But there's nothing to stop others -- as they're discussing them -- from rewriting those points to be more inclusive. Nor also doing so when they're put forth to the larger public.

Move away from liberation? Are you serious? Why would anyone want to move away from such an incredible word?

Of course, Tim is only pretending that anyone in the mainstream gay movement has actually used word liberation in the past decade and a half anyway. Liberation, unlike equality, implies toppling systems of oppression rather than joining them - something that is clearly not on the agenda of a man so eager to push such unchallenging, pro-military, pro-family, nationalistic rhetoric.

I mean, basically this messaging is fucking horrifying.

I guess it probably sounds a lot better reading it in a vacation home in Provincetown... assuming of course you can ignore the horrid working conditions of the immigrant community brought in each summer to serve you. But that’s the American dream!, and really isn't that what Tim's messaging is all about?