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Campaigning for Trans Rights in Spain – Part 1: Preparing the campaign with research

This article is the first of a series on the public campaigning strategies that contributed to achieving major legal victory for Trans people in Spain

16 February 2023 Spain passed a law in favor of Legal Gender Recognition by self-determination for trans persons, 16 years and older. The law is comprehensive and includes the prohibition of “conversion” therapy practices, outlawing of genital mutilations on intersex minors (IGM) and criminalization of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.

Until before the Bill was passed to become Law, trans people in Spain were pathologized and had to prove that they underwent hormone treatment, were diagnosed with gender dysphoria and with this psychological condition had to enter the process of surgical transition. All of this, in order to get their ID aligned with their gender identity in order to access day to day administrative tasks and live their lives as full citizens.

This great victory was supported by intensive work to ensure public support for this law, but also in view of redefining how Trans people are viewed in general by society.
This work was supported by “la Interseccion”, a learning community driven by people working on research and digital strategy. This article is a summary of the report they published on their work.

A fractured society

According to a study on Spanish public opinion, audiences are divided into three groups: on the one hand, people who have authoritarian values, who make up 30%; on the other hand, those who prioritise democracy and the protection of social rights, who we call our base audience and make up another 30%; and in the centre, the middle audiences. This sector, which would be around 40%, does not have firm opinions on all issues and can oscillate between the other two groups.

“What has been happening in recent years is that the authoritarian side – especially, but not exclusively, on the far right – has figured out how to communicate with the middle audience and is persuading them. Our challenge is to do that ourselves: to get out of our bubble, to stop talking only to those who are already convinced (the base) and to connect with many more people.”


Starting with the basics

Connecting with the moveable middle relies on a few “golden rules”:
• Using data is not useful, as people tend to only see the data that confirms their existing views
• Connecting with people is most effective over joint values and emotions
• Visual communication and storytelling is most effective to make connections
• Communication from the opposition are best ignored

Where do we start?

As with all narrative change efforts, it is important to analyse what the starting point is.
Social media listening over 231.000 tweets revealed that
• The trans-excluding movement generates a lot of noise with a clear and simple agenda. It is a very coordinated community when it comes to spreading messages, but they are a minority.
• The far right focuses on creating an enemy. It gathers a very broad community with a simple but effective discourse: sensationalist, superficial and demagogic, full of false dichotomies. It focuses on the idea that ‘cultural degeneration’ raises ‘absurd issues such as gender’, that distracts from ‘important’ issues, to attack trans, LGBTQ+, racialised, feminist, environmentalist and progressive (‘woke’) people.
• There is a lack of positive narratives that can reach a wider audience, as more than half of the agenda of the pro-rights communities is reactive.
This research is detailed in the next article of our series.

Research was also conducted in the news coverage, that revealed that coverage was predominantly negative, and that, even when it was positive, it vehiculated narratives that we are not helpful.

Research on Facebook surfaced that Facebook is a strategic channel to reach out to parents.

“On Facebook, the conversation around gender identity is modest in scale. There is more positive content, but only a third of it generates positive conversations.”

So what?

The outcomes of this research helped the campaign team come to the conclusion that:
• The campaign needs to reframe the social conversation around meaningful relationships, respect for people, support, family acceptance and parental love, as well as showing real situations of discrimination that affect equal rights.
• There is an urgent need to promote a more positive imagery of trans youth that is not centered on the symbolic violence they already receive. For example, with stories on how they overcome difficulties, resilience and healing processes
• Communications must shy away from symbolic debates, the culture war traps that polarise conversations around inclusive language, non-binary gender and LGBTQ+ representation.
• The audiovisual formats of social media can bring realism (as opposed to written media) and achieve a fairly positive tone in the replies.
• Communications must present the problem and systematically offer a solution based on a positive value.

Test, test, test

Another golden rule of campaigning says “if you can’t test it, don’t run it”. Indeed, no message should be distributed widely if it is not first tested.
This was done in this campaign via focus groups which helped the campaign team verify their hypotheses and investigate further which frames were helpful.

The team then conducted A/B audience testing with Facebook ads on four audiences: mothers, fathers, male and female teachers. The research excluded people with interests related to LGBTQ+ activism and the far right and focused on the level of engagement on the same message. It surfaced that mothers were the most responsive group.

These people do not exist, they are images generated automatically on a website that you can use for this type of exercise: this-person-does-not-exist.com


These tests helped the campaign to refine their strategy:

• Talking about rights is not helpful to create empathy
• Unexpected champions are very effective messengers
• Protecting children from violence is a fundamental motivation, which also leads to suspiscion when it comes to Trans children.
• Respect must be the core value of the campaign
• Education is key and should be supported on Trans issues.

“They want children to have space and support in schools and society to discover who they are. And they want them to be protected from violence. This is a positive message: focus on protecting fundamental rights from discrimination, bullying and assault”


Follow the story of this campaign in the next part of the series, which details the social listening activities