Study shows door-to-door canvassing can help reduce prejudice against transgender people

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A study published Friday by UC Berkeley and Stanford University researchers found that door-to-door canvassing can help mitigate prejudice against transgender people.

Originally published in the journal Science, the study showed that a single 10-minute conversation can markedly diminish prejudice for at least three months. The study was based in South Florida and focused primarily on transphobia.

Joshua Kalla, a campus graduate student of political science and government, and David Broockman, a Stanford University assistant professor of political economy, evaluated a door-to-door canvassing effort against transphobia already being conducted in Miami.

As part of the effort, 56 canvassers from the Los Angeles LGBT Center and SAVE, a South Florida LGBT organization, approached a total of 501 voters in an attempt to engage them in conversations about transgender issues, aiming to make them reflect on their personal beliefs.

Through a series of periodic, randomized surveys of the voters, Kalla and Broockman later discovered that these conversations caused decreases in transphobia at rates higher than the average decrease in homophobia in the United States from 1998 to 2012. The researchers also confirmed that the effects lasted for at least three months.

According to Kalla, the study was inspired by canvassing already conducted by the Los Angeles LGBT Center, adding that the center had been canvassing on transgender issues for six years before he and Broockman began evaluating its effects.

Kalla added, however, that although the study was informative, there is still much to be learned about how canvassing could reduce prejudice.

“These were long, complex 10-minute conversations that each had different ingredients to them,” Kalla said. “We need to understand what they had in common.”

David Green, a transgender graduate student in the campus’s Goldman School of Public Policy, said she agreed with the effectiveness of canvassing.

“Outside of the way that people are voting, there’s just the daily microaggressions and daily behavior that create uncomfortable situations — and that’s really difficult to convey in anything other than face-to-face conversations,” Green said.

Green added that she has used similar methods on campus. As a leader for the Goldman School student groups Women in Public Policy and Queer Issues in Public Policy, Green has hosted workshops in an attempt to create safe spaces for Goldman School students to share their stories.

Green said that because canvassing is hard to scale and measure, it could be difficult to quantify change. She noted, however, that the conversations brought out in the study bring attention to universal transgender issues.

Green also appreciated the fact that the study found that both transgender and nontransgender canvassers could be positive proponents of change.

“My greatest fear is that I’m graduating in two months, and I don’t know what’s going to happen with transgender action at Goldman after that,” Green said. “It’s nice to know that through this study, you can continue that momentum just by shedding light on people’s stories and experiences.”

Contact Harini Shyamsundar at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hshyamsundar.