Some of the North Carolina lawmakers who rushed through and passed the notorious HB2 anti-transgender legislation last month have argued they were simply responding to the fears of their constituents that allowing transgender people the right to use the bathroom with which they identify will enable sexual predators to invade the privacy of and attack women and children.
Although there have been no cases, documented or otherwise, from which to base those fears with actual facts, volunteer canvassers from the Los Angeles LGBT Center and SAVE, a South Florida-based LGBT nonprofit, who were knocking on doors in traditionally conservative Miami neighborhoods during the summer of last year discovered how prevalent dangerous misconceptions about transgender people are.
A volunteer named Steven had been asking voters what they thought about a county human rights ordinance which included transgender individuals and whether or not it should be repealed.
"I wouldn't want that around children. People can pretend and go after our kids," one resident told him. "That's something to think about. It would probably change a lot of people's minds."
Steven went on to tell the resident about his best friend and showed her a picture of him on his iPhone.
"He's definitely a boy," Steven explained candidly. "He just wanted his body to reflect that."
He added that after his friend received Gender Confirmation Surgery, the negative reaction he received from some people "really hurt him."
"I didn't think about it like that," the resident replied. "Like if I was in his position."
The conversation continued and the resident's concern about restrooms was raised. Steven noted that he and his friend sometimes use public facilities together. "We go in, do our business, wash our hands and leave," he said. "It didn't change anything."
"I don't see a problem with that," the resident said after a moment. "He should be able to."
According to the video released by the Los Angeles LGBT Center, it had taken Steven 22 minutes to change her mind.
He wasn't the only one.
Findings from researchers based at Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley released in an April 7 edition of the peer-reviewed Science journal found that volunteer canvassers trained in a deep-canvass approach like Steven'sone developed by the Los Angeles LGBT Centerwere able to achieve a "significant reduction in anti-transgender prejudice among approximately one in 10 voters."
The press release went on to state that "there was a reduction of anti-transgender prejudice comparable to the decline of prejudice against gay and lesbian people that took place over more than a decade, between 1998 and 2012."
Laura Gardiner is the national mentoring coordinator at the Leadership LAB of the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
"Through face-to-face canvassing conversations, we can reduce prejudice against transgender people in a lasting way," she told Windy City Times. "The heart of them has really been the same throughout the last several years. When we engage in a personal conversation with voters, we can make a connection and lastingly reduce prejudice."
According to Gardiner, the volunteer canvassers included both transgender individuals and cisgender allies from multiple social backgrounds. The kind of deep-canvassing in which they engaged is not a tactic that many imagine experiencing during an election season.
"In a campaign context, they would be all of one or two minutes," she said. "It's a one-way conversation in which you're delivering specific talking points and dropping off a flier."
The more intimate and connected approach to fielding people about transgender issues grew out of a stratagem developed by Leadership LAB Director David Fleischerone first used in early 2009. The Los Angeles LGBT Center went on to talk with voters on the issues such as same sex marriage.
"For us, the Supreme Court decision was an opportunity to focus on something new," Gardiner said. "Because transgender and gender nonconforming people are the most politically targeted groups in the LGBT community, we feel strongly that this is absolutely the most important issue that we can work on. We need to be able to find a way to reduce the prejudice fueling all these political attacks that are spreading around the country like wildfire."
The National Center for Transgender Equality ( NCTE ) lists 19 states across the United States with anti-transgender legislation currently being considered. They include House Bill 4474 in Illinois which would restrict students to using the restrooms of their sex assigned at birth.
No matter what the state, each bill's sponsors and supporters are attempting to perpetuate terror of transgender people using dehumanizing language that ranges from labeling them as "deeply disturbed" to "criminal perversions."
"We found that our conversations not only helped a voter not be as susceptible to those fear tactics but, in a ten-minute conversation, were able to make over a decade's worth of progress," Gardinar said. "The opposition is taking advantage of voters who don't understand what it means to be transgender."
"We can all relate to the feeling of being judged," Steven told the resident during the study. He asked her if she could ever remember such a moment.
"A couple of years ago when I moved to L.A.," she replied. "I got a lot of bad vibes here and there. They make you feel like you are alone."
For more information about the Los Angeles LGBT Center, visit: www.lalgbtcenter.org . For more information about SAVE, visit: http://www.save.lgbt.