Writing for PinkNews.co.uk, Chris Ward says equal marriage campaigners should focus on convincing neighbours and their local MPs to support the measure with traditional lobbying methods – rather than relying on online activism.
Being an LGBT campaigner is quite fashionable these days. Don a suit, speak at a conference, write the occasional article for a national gay news outlet (yes, I’m aware of the mild hypocrisy) and voila: you’re billed with the same title they once gave people who risked their lives speaking out. Campaign after campaign has been unveiled on equal marriage and various individuals clamber over each other to achieve recognition and credit for their part in it.
As noble as the intentions are, even if they do involve a bit of self-publicity, those we are still to convince on equal marriage are not going to find their progressive revelation in the midst of a Twitter debate between politicos. In fact, social media discussions on the subject show that a lot of those who engage with the issue online have already made up their minds. Why preach to the converted or waste energy on those who won’t be moved? Self-billed (or otherwise) LGBT campaigners could take a few hours of their time to do something devastatingly effective on equal marriage. You could write a letter to your neighbours telling them what this change would mean to you, print it, sign each one personally and deliver it to your entire street.
Time after time, evidence has shown that once “the gays” becomes “my neighbour Tom”, “my son Dan”, “my friend Sarah”, prejudice is challenged in the most effective way. Harvey Milk wasn’t lying when he said that if every lesbian, gay or bisexual person came out, there’d be no more homophobia. People fear the unknown. Helping those who oppose equal marriage or, as likely, those who are apathetic to put a face to the legislation is undoubtedly the most powerful means of persuasion.
In my own small way of contributing to the equal marriage campaign, I’ve done what I believe to be just that. I had wedding invitations printed and sent to my family when the consultation was live (Date: Possibly never. RSVP: To the Home Office Consultation); I went to confront my new MP face-to-face at her surgery with my partner to ask her why she hadn’t yet come out for equal marriage. I created the first petition ever in Guildford that gathered enough signatures to trigger a council debate on supporting equal marriage; I printed 170 postcards which I got signed by Guildford residents (from all walks of society) imploring the local MP to vote for equal marriage.
The latter was probably the most important thing I did. Before I decided to have the postcards printed, I had coffee with Guildford’s MP in Parliament. One of the things she told me left a distinct and alarming impression – she couldn’t understand why she had heard from those who opposed equal marriage, but not that many from those that supported it. There is no starker reminder of that old adage that it takes merely good men to do nothing for evil to succeed. Mildly hyperbolic perhaps, but an important point. After I handed those 170 signed postcards to Anne Milton, she attended the debate, wrestled with the issues and abstained. She got a lot of unfair stick for that from both sides – but I know full well that she spent the time and effort to speak to me and other campaigners in coming to that decision. I’m hopeful that, in the third reading, we’ll convince her to walk into the Aye lobby.
So stop trying to convince 650 MPs and just concentrate on one. Reaching out to the average person in your neighbourhood will give you surprising results. One of the most moving postcards returned to me was from a straight man who simply wrote to Anne that he wanted to be best man at his brother’s wedding. Instead of chasing retweets or any other WWW currency, stir something up in your local community. Your MP needs to realise that it’s not just LGBT people who support this and it takes so little to lure those individuals out of silence.
400 MPs supported us in February. If you have the inclination to do the simple things I’ve outlined above, please do. Either way, opponents of equal marriage certainly will be.
Chris Ward is an LGBT campaigner and a member of the Labour Party. He blogs here
The views expressed in the article are his own and not that of PinkNews.co.uk