Identity, Fear, and Transgender Rights
by Melissa R. Michelson and Brian F. Harrison
Since the mid-1990s, there has been a seismic shift in attitudes toward gay and lesbian people, with a majority of Americans now supporting same-sex marriage and relations between same-sex, consenting adults. However, support for transgender individuals lags far behind; a significant majority of Americans do not support the right of transgender people to be free from discrimination in housing, employment, public spaces, health care, legal documents, and other areas. Much of this is due to deeply entrenched ideas about the definition of gender, perceptions that transgender people are not real or are suffering from mental illness, and fears that extending rights to transgender people will come at the expense of the rights of others. So how do you get people to rethink their prejudices?
In this book, Melissa R. Michelson and Brian F. Harrison examine what tactics are effective in changing public opinion regarding transgender people. The result is a new approach that they call Identity Reassurance Theory. The idea is that individuals need to feel confident in their own identity before they can embrace a stigmatized group like transgender people, and that support of members of an outgroup can be encouraged by affirming the self-esteem of those targeted for attitude change. Michelson and Harrison, through their experiments, show that the most effective messaging on transgender issues meets people where they are, acknowledges their discomfort without judgment or criticism, and helps them to think about transgender people and rights in a way that aligns with their view of themselves as moral human beings.