Press Release

Tackling Transphobia in the Heartland: New Report Explores Inoculation Tactics and Messages to Advance Nondiscrimination Policies


A survey of 784 working-class swing voters in central Ohio reveals it’s possible to disarm the Right on wedge issues used to exploit voters’ fears.

Washington, DC — In face-to-face conversations with 784 working- and middle-class central Ohio voters, Working America canvassers linked values of fairness and equality to bathroom access for LGBTQ individuals. The new “Front Porch Focus Group” report, Tackling Transphobia in the Heartland, explores attitudes about SB100, Ohio’s legislative proposal to outlaw discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in employment, housing and public accommodations. The project also surfaced effective messages to advance nondiscrimination policies.

In conversation after conversation, we found substantial support for SB100 across various demographic groups. Without the Right’s fear-based tactics to politicize discussions about “bathrooms,” even 25 percent of the most conservative voters were inclined enough toward nondiscrimination to sign a petition demanding passage of a state law enshrining these protections.

Canvassers set out to reach voters before the opposition had a chance to exploit fears and define the issue and what’s at stake. Based on these conversations, findings show Working America canvassers were able to connect with voters on wedge issues by listening and fostering a safe space for an informed conversation. Canvassers used tactics like explaining anti-discrimination laws were already successfully implemented in nearby towns, appealing to the golden rule, or a belief in common fairness, invoking empathy and countering the “man in a dress” image by illustrating the real danger transgender women face in public restrooms.

“By talking with people and allowing for a back-and-forth, we were able to win broad support for ending discrimination in Ohio. Stripping the Right of a wedge issue they use to polarize and win elections is possible — when we listen and have a respectful conversation with voters,” said Matt Morrison, deputy director of Working America.

“LGBTQ people have been exploited by the Right for political gains for years. This project shows we can disarm the opposition and reach even some hard-core conservatives through face-to-face conversations about fairness and equality,” said Jerame Davis, executive director of Pride At Work.

Among the topline findings from the report:

  • Age was the biggest predictor of willingness to sign the petition in support of SB100. Voters younger than 50 generally were supportive of nondiscrimination legislation, with 53 percent willing to sign. In contrast, only 24 percent of voters older than 50 signed it.
  • We were able to mobilize a portion of even the staunchest conservatives. More than 1 in 4 of the firmest conservatives were willing to sign the petition after talking with canvassers, and others began to consider the issue differently.
  • Women were slightly more supportive than men, with 43 percent of women signing, compared with 37 percent of men.
  • On income, there was essentially no difference in signature rates between those in households making $75,000 a year or less and those with incomes above $75,000. All the people we canvassed had household incomes of less than $100,000.
  • Safe conversations are critical. Anecdotally, a large number of people we spoke with revealed this was the first time they’d ever considered the issue of transgender rights. Our engagement gave them the space to reason out loud and come to a conclusion with a nonjudgmental canvasser.

The findings are based on 784 conversations with working-class Ohioans in “front porch focus groups” — interviews held in person at voters’ front doors — conducted by Working America canvassers in Columbus, Worthington, Whitehall, Grove City and Reynoldsburg, Ohio, May 1-12. Seventy-three percent of our sample was in households making $75,000 or less. As far as a demographic breakdown, the population skewed female over male (56 percent to 44 percent), and the vast majority of the people we spoke with were white (89%). Nine percent were African-American and the remaining 2 percent were Latinx, Asian or unknown. The median age of the people we spoke with was 41, with 59 percent younger than 50.

Since 2003, Working America has mobilized working people who don’t have the benefit of a union at work to fight for good jobs and a fair economy. As the 3-million-member community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, we unite working people in urban and suburban communities around a shared economic agenda. For more information, visit

Pride At Work organizes mutual support between the organized Labor Movement and the LGBTQ community for social and economic justice. We seek full equality for LGBTQ workers in our workplaces and unions and we organize in the spirit of the union movement’s historic motto, “An Injury to One is an Injury to All.”

CONTACT: Krissi Jimroglou
[email protected]


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