This blog entry by ACLU of Montana LGBT Advocacy Coordinator Ninia Baehr on www.fairisfairmontana.org.

Will you be visiting with family this holiday season? With all the emphasis on love and family, a family gathering might provide the perfect opportunity to talk with your aunt or your cousin or your brother or sister about domestic partnership. Consider having a personal conversation with at least one person who may not yet be in firmly in favor of relationship recognition for same-sex couples.

Research in virtually every state that has worked toward relationship recognition has shown that the best way to change hearts and minds is through a personal connection. Whether you are an LGBT person or an ally, by sharing your personal story about why you want fairness for same-sex couples, you can put a human face on the issue.
If you’re LGBT and out, tell people about your life. Tell them about your relationships, or your hopes for future relationships, and why relationship recognition is important to you. Tell them about the struggles you’ve had and the ways you overcame them (especially if you had help from straight allies).

If you’re straight, talk to people about how the lack of relationships recognition has affected the lives of your friends – their family lives, their work lives, etc.  Tell them that you feel sad and angry when you hear about their lives being made more difficult.

Whether you are LGBT or straight, one of your most important goals will be to give people who are not yet supportive of relationship recognition an opportunity to hear your story. Listening respectfully is important, too, so that they can have some of their questions and concerns addressed in an open and non-combative environment.

You are telling your/our story and then facilitating a dialogue; you are planting a seed.

You want to create a tone for the conversation in which the person you are talking with can feel empathy and compassion for LGBT people. They probably won’t be able to do this if they feel attacked. And it will be easiest for them to do this not because of a general political discussion about “rights” and “equality” but by hearing about specific examples of real-life people being harmed by discrimination.

Words and phrases to use

  • Loving, committed couples
  • Fair, fairness
  • Not my place to judge
  • Hurt, harm, stand in the way of
  • Family security
  • Responsibility for one another
  • Care for each other
  • Protect each other
  • Live and let live
  • Language of community (friend, neighbor, coworker, etc.)

Words and phrases to avoid

  • Rights
  • Benefits
  • Equality
  • “The same as you”
  • “Homosexual lifestyle”
  • Accusatory language (bigotry, prejudice, hate, etc.)
  • Language of conflict (war, battle, fight, etc.)

Please note:  unless it is your area of personal experience or expertise it is usually best to avoid 1) comparisons with the civil rights movement and 2) religious debates.

As a refresher, below are few a few examples of protections that same-sex couples don’t have if their relationships are not recognized – you can imagine how not having these protections could make life unnecessarily difficult for families during times of crisis.  If you know any couples who have been harmed because they were excluded from these basic protections, tell that story.

  • The right to make medical decisions for their partner if he or she is incapable of doing so;
  • Inheritance rights and the right to determine burial arrangements;
  • The right to family medical or bereavement leave;
  • Priority over all others to become the court-appointed guardian for a partner who becomes mentally incapacitated.

If every person who reads this blog has one conversation, together we will reach hundreds of people with our message of fairness – that’s huge. Please let us know how it goes.