Framing Equality

In partnership with ILGA-Europe, we’ve developed materials on how to better frame equality for LGBTI people across Europe.

A new framing toolkit for equality campaigners and activists across Europe…

Download our new toolkit for Framing Equality here! 

Interested in attending or hosting a workshop in the UK in the new year? Get in touch!

LGBTI Flag and Symbol

We’re in Poland in the unpredictable summer of 2013. Progressive movements are collectively rolling their eyes at an attack on gender equality from the fringes of the religious right. It looks ridiculous: an attempt to discredit what they call ‘gender ideology’. The gender equality ‘agenda’ is denounced as a threat to social order; sexuality education, they say, is a tool used by paedophiles. Members of the progressive movement—including feminist and LGBTI groups and academics—are writing sneering responses in the media: teaching gender equality in schools is about improving the prospects of young girls; and no, masturbation lessons are not on the agenda.

But by 2014, the progressive movement is in emergency response mode: it’s no longer just the fringes of the right-wing who are using these arguments. They’ve spread across the establishment and, despite facing ridicule from much of the media, are deeply embedded in the (particularly rural) public consciousness. Academics in the field of gender theory are receiving death threats. A ‘Stop Gender Ideology’ committee is set up in Parliament. And it actually looks as though the Istanbul Convention (which sparked off the whole debate) might not be ratified by the Polish government.* On the other side of Europe, in France, these arguments were being simultaneously used in protests that erupted around the legalisation of equal marriage, largely under the banner of La Manif Pour Tous. They were victorious in halting the extension of adoption and surrogate rights to gay couples.

Across the water, in the Irish Republic, the received wisdom at this time has been that this traditional, Catholic nation will never accept rights for LGBT people. By early 2015, this is completely overturned, when the public discourse is claimed by campaigners for equal marriage. The Yes Equality campaign successfully tells the story of an inclusive, fair, generous and equal Ireland that the population agrees with. The shift is palpable: and the referendum for marriage equality results in a resounding win.

Understanding framing is key to understanding social change

What do these stories have in common? They’re all about dedicated and effective campaigning. And they’re about effective framing: telling stories, creating meaning, shifting discourse, influencing thinking. The different ways the issues we care about are framed can dramatically impact how we respond to them. Understanding framing strengthens our movements. Read more

Pride & Prejudice: Six framing lessons from London Pride

This month, people marched across London in the culmination of Pride. But in the lead up to the festivities, the organisers faced some pretty fierce criticism for this year’s Love Happens Here campaign. The PR company behind the campaign apologised after receiving complaints about the centring of straight people’s voices, the use of homophobic slurs and stereotypes, and the exclusion of trans* stories.

Sounds kind of like the opposite of Pride, right?

Tweet showing an example poster, responding "Sylvia Rivera didn't throw bricks at cops for this."

There are some juicy lessons in this experience for a framing geek like me. And they chime pretty well with a lot of the lessons we’ve learnt over the past couple of years in our Framing Equality project (read more here). Read more



Why did a group of people in Russia want to ban LGBTI groups from using the rainbow flag (stolen from nature and the children, apparently), and how have movements like La Manif Pour Tous in France, protesting that sex education must ‘leave my gender stereotypes alone’ (not a joke), gained any serious support?

In November 2017, we’re publishing a toolkit on Framing Equality for activists and campaigners. It represents the learning we’ve done over the past two years, working with ILGA-Europe on a project aiming to better understand how to interact with the narratives around LGBTI equality across Europe. 

Because we’ve repeatedly been confronted with the reality that change is not a linear process; neither does it come with a lifetime guarantee. Just as slowly as narratives of acceptance and togetherness are normalised; narratives of division and hatred spring up suddenly. So we’ve been interested in how you create change that lasts. How not to just win the single campaign, but the long-term cultural shifts. These types of shifts require changes in the way we think about issues: changes that can only occur when we change the narrative.

In our quest to work this out, we’ve looked at:

  • How people in Europe currently think about LGBTI equality. Here, we were particularly interested in attitudes and beliefs about LGBTI people and related issues that helped us understand the models that people use to reason about these issues.
  • How LGBTI equality is currently framed in Europe. How do advocates, opponents, and the public currently talk about LGBTI equality? What can this tell us about how people think about these issues?
  • What we currently know about the effectiveness of communicating LGBTI equality. What has and hasn’t worked in advocating for the rights of LGBTI people?

In many cases, we may have generated more questions than we’ve answered. But we’ve also found countless inspirational examples of good practice, and lessons from research and practice that can be used as a framework for creating better communications.

All this and more–including how to work this out for your own context–in our upcoming toolkit. Watch this space…

Latest Framing Equality posts: