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When Pride 2023 began on June 1st, there were already over 500 pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation proposed or passed in state legislatures across the country. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) declared a national state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people on June 6, 2023, the first state of emergency ever declared since its founding in 1980.
Now more than ever, it’s important for nonprofit organizations dedicated to the rights of the LGBTQ+ community to advocate effectively on behalf of their supporters. The good news is that changemakers like nonprofit organizations, advocacy organizations, businesses, and individuals can successfully advocate for a better future for LGBTQ+ people with support from the right strategies and tools.
While LGBTQ+ causes often receive more attention during Pride month, meaningful and lasting change occurs when advocacy happens year-round. To help your organization continue building support throughout the year, we’ll explore advocacy strategies that help organizations drive positive change; tactics that unite and activate supporters; and technology to make this important work more effective and efficient.
Key types of advocacy
Before organizations can create advocates for their cause, they need to spread awareness of their target issues. This is where issue awareness comes in. Issue awareness messages and campaigns can be directed at existing or potential supporters, with the goal of educating them about a specific issue.
Often, the central issue is a specific policy or a cultural phenomenon that the organization seeks to promote or eliminate. For example, a nonprofit that works with LGBTQ+ youth may raise awareness about specific school board policies with the objective of making them more inclusive.
Issue awareness is a foundational step in most advocacy work, and it’s important to make sure that your organization’s issue awareness work uses specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals to measure progress. One example of a SMART goal within an issue awareness campaign might be:
“We will educate new and existing supporters about the bill currently in committee to protect drag story time hours at public libraries within our state. We will promote awareness of this issue by using digital ads and a social media campaign to increase traffic to an educational campaign page on our website by 30% within the next 90 days.”
Technology like a unified constituent relationship management (CRM) platform with targeting functionality can help organizations running issue awareness campaigns easily track and store data about new and existing supporters who engage with their messages. Later, that information can be used to target the most active and educated supporters and get them involved.
For example, if you know which supporters interacted with your issue awareness campaign and learned about your work, you might ask those specific supporters to contact their local library boards and express support for the drag story time bill currently in committee.
Legislative advocacy and lobbying
Legislative advocacy happens when someone contacts lawmakers with the goal of influencing legislation. Whether at the local, state, or federal level, legislative advocacy and lobbying are direct ways to influence governance and policy that affect the daily lives of thousands, if not millions of people.
Here are some tips for engaging supporters in legislative advocacy:
- Prep supporters for real-time meetings: If you’re engaging with policymakers in person, be respectful of and ready to meet the legislative official and their staff. You can empower your supporters to make the most of these opportunities by arriving on time, preparing and sharing on-message talking points with supporters in advance, and brainstorming with supporters so they’re prepared to communicate through their lived experiences as well as data.
- Remove barriers to participation with digital tools: If you’re engaging asynchronously via email or phone, a high volume of messages concentrated at once will make a big impact. Technology like digital advocacy tools makes this easy for both your staff and supporters to do. Ask supporters to host an event dedicated to phone banking or sending advocacy messages. Or, share advocacy email and script templates with pre-written messages, fields that automatically connect them to their representatives, and a time-bound call to action.
Advocates can share a multitude of messages with officials at different levels, and the right one for your campaign will depend on the audience, who’s sharing the message, and your goals.
Passionate advocates can build more power and create more capacity for driving change when they come together in person and virtually with those who have similar beliefs and goals. That’s why local advocacy groups and grassroots activists can be instrumental in driving positive change on LGBTQ+ issues.
Community organizing is work that’s often not associated with a specific electoral “finish line,” like an election. Instead, it’s a practice that takes place over time and across a broad range of situations with the purpose of engaging neighbors to create change that benefits everyone. Community organizing often involves coalition-building—working with allied entities and organizations to meet shared goals.
For example, an organization focused on LGBTQ+ advocacy might build a coalition with:
- Racial justice organizations and labor unions to organize around promoting safer and more inclusive schools and workplaces
- Indigenous groups and climate change advocacy groups to build power around environmental justice initiatives
- Domestic violence reduction organizations to allocate municipal budget funds toward more inclusive shelters and housing resources for survivors
Going to a school board meeting in person to advocate for inclusive policies can be less scary, especially for newer advocates, if coalition members attend as allies. Plus, it can also make your message more effective. Similarly, attending volunteer events with LGBTQ+ people and allies can be an energizing experience, giving everyone involved the energy needed to continue their efforts.
Tactics to activate LGBTQ+ advocates year-round
Letters to the editor
When newspapers, magazines, and other media entities publish harmful editorial content, letters to the editor can be a useful strategy for ensuring LGBTQ+ voices are heard. One of the most high-profile letters to the editor in recent memory came from GLAAD and more than 100 other advocacy organizations addressing the anti-trans and transphobic content the New York Times published.
Letters to the editor can also be directed at regional media organizations, too. Once your letters are published, you can get the word out and encourage supporters to read and share them.
Text messages can be a great way to share exciting or time-sensitive updates. M+R’s 2023 benchmarks found that nonprofits increased the volume of advocacy-specific mobile messages they sent by 12% between 2021 and 2022, making it clear that this is a growing channel and has the potential to help LGBTQ+ organizations spread the word.
Host a lobby day
Provide your supporters with an experience they won’t forget: an in-person (or virtual) lobby day where they can meet directly with legislators and/or their staff. This tactic works well if your organization has a staff member who is knowledgeable about lobbying, can schedule the meeting, and lead your group.
Seminars, trainings, and webinars
Many allies and would-be advocates want to help but might not have all of the tools or knowledge to fully do so. Address these gaps with seminars, training sessions, and webinars focused on specific types of allyship or advocacy.
For example, Equality Virginia recently hosted training sessions about how to advocate for LGBTQ-inclusive policies at school board meetings, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America developed consistent virtual training sessions to scale up its National Volunteer Program in 2022.
Provide frequent updates on key issues
To keep supporters engaged about your cause, provide frequent updates on your target issues as news breaks. By talking with supporters in the moment, you have a better chance of driving them to action.
To stay informed, there are many websites that track and host updated, relevant information on LGBTQ+ issues, such as:
- LGBTQ+ Victory Fund’s Out for America map, which is the most comprehensive resource for identifying currently serving LGBTQ+ elected officials in the U.S.
- Equality Federation has an up-to-the-minute State Legislation Tracker for LGBTQ+ issues.
- The Human Rights Campaign hosts a wealth of knowledge in the resources section of its website. Types of resources include everything from fact sheets to searchable databases to state scorecards.
- GLAAD publishes studies on LGBTQ+ issues in media. Their research ranges from their Accelerating Acceptance Study to their Social Media Safety Index.
By maintaining consistent communication with supporters between campaigns, you can solidify the connection you’ve built with them. Then, when it’s time to rally support for your next campaign, you can easily reactive them.
Social media advocacy
Today’s advocates often spend a lot of time on social media, posting and sharing about the issues they care most about. With the reach that platforms like TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram provide, content related to your cause can often attract mass attention.
That’s why it’s important for advocacy organizations like yours to post regularly on social media, keep track of your most active fans and supporters, and provide your audience with shareable links to advocacy actions and issue-related content.
The possibilities for LGBTQ+ advocacy are endless
These are just some of the many ways that organizations can generate advocacy actions and build relationships with advocates in support of the LGBTQ+ community. This list is by no means exhaustive, and what works for your organization may differ based on your organization’s type, size, location, mission, and much more.
To create change over time, organizations and individuals need to take collective, frequent, and sustained advocacy action to support LGBTQ+ causes. Whether it’s June or December, Pride is forever.