What Gays Could Learn from the Church – Strategy in Social Movements and Referendums

13222972253_e4cff1ab87_oExcuse the click-bait title. But seriously, there is one lesson that the LGBT community and their supporters (including myself) could learn from the bible bashers. And it’s a really important one…

So, granted there are lots of really nice things being done in the name of voting for equality in the upcoming marriage referendum. And it’s really heartwarming to see people from all ages and walks of life getting involved and putting badges and declarations of their intention to vote on their social pages.

But that’s the really important and dangerous word here, intention.

How many of us intend to lose weight? Stop smoking? Read less Buzzfeed and more ‘real news’ articles?

Mm hmm…

And that’s just examples of what we intend but don’t do for ourselves – what about when it comes to others? Like getting up off our arses and voting for their right to marry?

Intention is all well and good. And intention does, arguably lead to social change and how we think as a society as a whole over time… but we don’t have time for this when it comes to the marriage referendum. We don’t have time for just intention.

#YesEquality and all other pro-marriage campaigns don’t need strategies for intention.  They need strategies for pressurisation.

To be clear – it’s not enough to get people to say they will be voting, we need pressurise people to go down to vote, and to prove they’ve done it. 

So what does religion got to do with it? Well, if it’s one thing religious orders understand – particularly the Catholic Church – it is how to assert social pressures upon a community. It’s easy, given the place time and our personal history in Ireland think of the negative examples of this. But I would like to highlight a very famous positive example from our collective past and examine how the gay community and their supporters could learn from it…


Lessons from History: 

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat that day on bus and was thrown into prison, something changed.

A social movement started.

What’s important to ask though is why? Why Rosa? Why that day? And the answer is perhaps a little more complicated than you may think. This wasn’t the first instance – there had been at least three other instances of the very same thing happening, on the very same buses, in the very same state, in the very same year. The difference this time, was Rosa Parks was a special sort of highly connected person. The sort of connected person that had ties to lots of groups across the whole arc of social classes, black and white. Particularly, she was an important member of her local congregation and NAACP, the president of whom (Nixon (no, not that one)) had a good young pastor friend who was a bit iffy about getting involved… called Martin Luther King. Thankfully, Nixon wasn’t one to take ‘no’ for an answer.

So, the first thing we know is that for a social movement to truly happen – for 90% of black Americans to refuse to use a bus, or say, 90% of Irish people to vote Yes in a referendum – we need influencers to stand up and really work their connections. When it comes to social movements, it’s not enough for a celebrity, say, to merely stick a colourful badge on their Twitter account declaring their intention to vote… or perhaps to appear smiling in a campaign saying why they’re voting Yes. It’s great, but it’s not enough. It’s too slow. It’s too subtle.


And we just don’t have that sort of time.

What’s much more important is for them to use their connectedness to reach and pressurise as many people as possible – particularly other influencers.

This was something the Catholic Church was really super at here back in the day – with influence on heads of government, policing, health, education. You name it.

But now to the real crux of the matter – for which we need to return to 60s…

As the movement for equal rights for black Americans escalated and spread nationwide, thousands of white students for universities around the States, signed up to assist with black voter registration down South during their Summer period. (Back when being a student still collectively stood for wanting to change the world). They knew it would be dangerous – there had been numbers of casualties and attacks already but still they signed up, to put their lives on the line to change the world for the better. To make the world a better place for someone other than just themselves.

Thing is though… not all of them went.

Many, in fact, never took the trip down South. They bailed.

Some were convinced by families, partners or other students that that risk just wasn’t worth it but many simply opted to do something different with their Summer (god knows if there ever a time to be a student it was the 60s).

So why did the rest go?

What converted some to social action when others pledge action but chose inaction? Well, it turns out some clever researchers thought the incident was interesting enough to study, so we don’t have to guess.

It wasn’t because they had better access to transport.

It wasn’t because they’d less ‘to lose’ (e.g. a young family at home, strict parents or a really hot college boyfriend).

It wasn’t that they themselves felt part of another minority – a shared experience.

It was to do with social pressure.

The single only common denominator amongst those that went South vs. those that didn’t, was that they belonged to groups – particularly churches and religious orders – with strong social ties.

Groups that rang each other up to talk about getting the bus together. Groups who talked excitedly about the trip in the lead up together. Groups that required regular meetups (such as mass, or sports practise maybe). Groups they had to face… And the sort of groups you would have to face if you backed out.

Never underestimate the power of the group to self-assert and maintain its own social rules.

So what can the church teach ‘the gays’? 

Well, I believe that tells us exactly how to win a referendum.

There needs to be a focus on creative strategies on social media – yes – but also all other forms of campaigning, that taps into

a) the power of the group

b) puts pressure on not backing out (of voting in general, obviously what people put on ballots in the both is their own business).

Some (very unthought-through) examples of such strategy in action:

A campaign to getting #votingselfie trending – a campaign to get the most amount of individual selfies in one hashtag in one day – and incidentally proof and social cudos you went to the polling in the first place.

A local community groups fitting the vote into their group habits – like a womens 5k runners team organising to meet at their local polling station rather than the park this time.

A coffee morning  – local persons or businesses hosting a free event for those who can show proof of voting.

A giant feck off city centre fabulous party with cheap booze and amazing acts – akin to the New Years Eve party at Trinners – wristbands collectable at your local polling station, of course.


Just a few random thought. Any other ideas out there?




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