Our old pal Glib Fortuna has made a startling discovery: gay rights advocacy groups actually discuss how to make their position most appealing and convincing to the public. He is shocked – shocked! – to find out that those he disagrees with actually use the tools of political framing just like those he agrees with (or is manipulated by). You see, he discovered this article about how gay rights groups are training gay parents to be more effective advocates for themselves in the media and he just can’t believe that they would stoop to the level of anti-gay groups in actually framing their message most effectively.
What he has suddenly discovered is called “framing” and the irony is that it was developed and perfected largely by conservatives. Only in the last few years has the left begun to try and catch up in this regard, prompted largely by the publication of George Lakoff’s work. The idea behind framing is to state an issue in the way that is most likely to appeal to one’s target audience, which primarily means to state it in a way that is most likely to appeal to the real reasons they make decisions: emotion.
The reality is that people are, as Matt Nisbet puts it, “cognitive misers”; that is, people rarely take the time to think an issue through in a serious, logical manner. On those issues where they have a real expertise, they likely have applied the full range of analytical tools to reach a rational conclusion; on almost all other issues, however, they apply cognitive shortcuts, mostly vague emotional associations. Since that is how most people reach conclusions about most issues, that is the most effective level on which to appeal to people.
This is nothing more than the application of the tools of advertising to political communication, and it has been well understood by conservatives for a long time. It goes back at least to Newt Gingrich’s famous memo to GOPAC members on how to apply positive language to yourself but only negative language to your opponents. This is absolutely the norm in political discussion; the only relevant question is whether a given way of framing the issue is honest or not, something Glib doesn’t bother to address; he’s too busy being shocked that gays would use the tools of framing the same way others do.
He quotes the following from the article about the political training:
Armed with a slick 162-page handbook and coaching from daylong seminars, gay and lesbian parents across the country are learning to present the most convincing case that their families are normal, even mainstream.
A national training campaign, started in 2005 by Family Pride in Washington, and ramped up in the past few months, prepares gay parents to be spokespeople and counter critics of the growth in families led by same-sex couples. About 30 parents and other supporters of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights – plus about 15 children – attended a training session in San Francisco over the weekend. Los Angeles and San Diego are next.
The campaign to create a speakers bureau of people available to appear in the media and before lawmakers is bearing fruit. A Texas couple who were among the first to complete the training were slated to tell their story on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show Monday.
And replies with appropriately feigned outrage:
Remember all the horror and outrage when Bush “staged” an interview with deployed troops. These extremists are staging an entire social movement and getting sweet segments on Oprah.
The irony, of course, is that he is engaging in framing himself in this statement pretending to be outraged that someone else is framing. And he’s doing so dishonestly to boot. He’s framing it dishonestly by pretending that teaching people how to speak to the media most effectively means that the “entire social movement” is “staged”, which is of course utter nonsense. If that was true, then every political position would be staged any time anyone uses the tools of political communication – framing – to get their point across. Indeed, because Glib is using the tools of framing himself, he is inadvertantly undermining his own position here.
Note also Glib’s use of framing by portraying those who simply want their families to be recognized as families by others as “extremists.” And yes, the more astute among you will notice that I have also engaged in framing with the way I have turned the image he wishes to portray (radical homosexual activists advancing their agenda) into an entirely different image (families seeking recognition and respect). Again, bear in mind that everyone uses framing; the only relevant issue is whether a given frame is honest or not.
He then quotes this passage from the article:
At the seminar, parents worked to shape their stories into compelling appeals for civil rights. They heard about research on gay and lesbian people who raise children and on the terminology that most appeals to straight Americans.
“Our families are a real political tool,” trainer Trina Olson told the group, which included people from a spectrum of ages and ethnicities. The event was a collaboration of multiple family-advocacy groups, including the national Family Pride organization and the San Francisco Bay Area’s Our Family Coalition and Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere.
Participants heard about using words and phrases that signal what they have in common with people around them – “being a fair person,” “in it together” and “building strong families” – rather than focusing on gay rights and sexual orientation.
And once again, he feigns outrage:
So there you go. Advice from the “trainer”: Purposely use kids to promote a radical adult-led social upheaval and oh yeah, lie about what you are really doing while you’re at it.
Carefully-crafted repackaging with innocent kids as props. Nice.
Oh, of course. Because gay rights opponents would never use kids to advance their position. I’m sure that has nothing to do with the fact that gay rights opponents are constantly equating homosexuality with pedophilia. And again, bear in mind that the key question is whether the frame is honest, and the one discussed above by the trainer certainly is.
Whether the bigots like it or not, there are hundreds of thousands of families headed by gay parents in this country. Hundreds of thousands of gay parents doing all the things that straight parents do – helping their kids with their homework, punishing them when they misbehave, teaching them right from wrong and how to treat other people, cheering at their soccer games, preparing them for their future, and so forth. That’s what parents do and gay parents are no different from straight parents in that regard.
And yes, those who don’t know such families need to see that, just as they needed to see interracial families two generations ago so they could see that their attempts to demonize those families were off base because those families were just like theirs. And yes, the children of gay parents are important in showing the bigots that they are wrong, that being raised by parents who love you is infinitely more important than what gender their parents happen to love.
He then quotes this from the article:
Instead of appealing for “marriage equality,” parents should talk about what it means to be barred from marriage. The term “discrimination” should be shelved and replaced with the more concrete idea of “hurting,” Olson told the parents in San Francisco.
And again, he is shocked – shocked! – that people would appeal to emotions when making a political argument:
Gee, that’s a great idea, public policy decisions made based on feelings, “hurt” feelings at that. “Hurting” is more “concrete” than “discrimination?” No, “hurting” is more accurate than “discrimination” because it’s all about emotion, and not at all about good public policy, constitutionality or rights.
Oh, of course. Because Glib and his fellow right wingers would never appeal to emotion in making a political argument. Those constant appeals to “protect the children” or “support the troops” or “stand up for God”, those aren’t emotional appeals at all, purely analytical phrases designed to plumb the logical depths of a position. All of this feigned outrage is quite absurd, of course.
What really bothers Glib is that there are so many families out there headed by gay people and that if people see such families and get to know them, they might realize that they’re human beings just like the rest of us. They might actually notice that gay parents go through all the same things straight parents do. They worry about their kids, they put bandaids on the cuts and scrapes, they comfort them when they have bad dreams, they’re proud of their accomplishments. In short, they’re just like us. And that message is terrifying to those who have invested so much effort into portraying gays as Them.