On Inequality, Activism, and Writing a Good Political Letter

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #104, Winter 2004.

by Divinity

In the spring of 1930, Mahatma Gandhi began his civil disobedience campaign in India. Although close to 60,000 Indians were arrested and tens of thousands beaten and killed by the British during the protest, Gandhi remained a proponent
of nonviolence. He claimed he was an average man, but his promotion of human rights and unwavering gentleness of spirit propelled him into the public spotlight, where he was acknowledged
as the world?s greatest man of peace. This is still his legacy today, long after his assassination.
A similar cry for human rights was seen in 1969 during the Stonewall ?Riots,? which were a reaction to continued police harassment of gays and drag kings and queens at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Stonewall led directly to the current movement for equal treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights in all areas of life in the United States. Although the instigators of the Stonewall incident were perhaps somewhat less ?civil? than Gandhi and his followers, the results were basically the same: although grudging, slow,
resisted, and fraught with difficulty, gradual recognition by authorities and many in the general public shows that just maybe the protesters? complaints were legitimate.
The GLBT civil rights movement has been laudable, partially due to the fact that we haven?t resorted to violence. Oh, we?ve been pissed a time or two, but since that stormy beginning, we generally have refrained from vitriolic denunciations, beatings, kidnappings, rapes, bombings, and murders. That?s a pretty good record, and one of which we all can justifiably be proud. The same cannot be said of our ?God-fearing? and supposedly morally correct ?Christian? opponents: gay bashers, Bible-thumping ministers, timid politicians, misinformed reporters, uneducated educators, ?bottom line? employers, scared spouses, confused children, ignorant friends, and the ever-present good old boys. They?ve used virtually every form of violence against us they think might cause us harm or make us go away. These guys almost make Saddam seem mild-mannered?even normal. About the only thing they haven?t used are nuclear weapons. Let?s not tempt them.

We, as a supposedly united transgender community, need to?nay, must?increase our efforts to gain equal rights protections in as peaceful and intelligent a manner as possible. Of course, the protections we are seeking are theoretically already in place and should be acknowledged by all American citizens as rights and protections are guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution of the United States and our Bill of Rights. That we have been denied these rights by those who cannot tolerate alternative lifestyles or different sexual orientations should not make us the culprits.

Awareness of equal rights and equal treatment?especially the lack of same?usually begins early in our lives. For as long as anyone can remember, the GLBT community has faced exactly that kind of selective ?equality??murder of transgendered people in 2002 was nearly pandemic. This just isn?t right or fair. That?s why the transgender community needs to continue its struggles.

One of the ways we can do that is to write political letters and e-mails?lots of them. All of us, and to everyone and anyone who might help our cause, I can already hear the groans: ?But I don?t know how!;? ?I?d never say it right;? ?I don?t know who to write;? ?I don?t have the time;? ?I hate writing;? yada yada yada yada. Okay, so how does one write an intelligent letter to a politician or to a minister or to the media? Let?s take a look at the most effective methods of communicating our message?letters and e-mails.
Always keep this in mind: politicians receive hundreds?sometimes thousands?of letters and e-mails every week. Their time is in short supply; they?re constantly inundated with appeals for assistance and recognition. You face fierce philosophical competition, and, let?s not forget, possibly even more important (to them), they?re worried about getting re-elected. Thus, they have short attention spans. Your letters and e-mails must get across the message concisely and in an articulate manner.

Most legislators never see our letters and e-mails. Rather, it?s the responsiiblity of their staffs to deal with each and every constituent?s problem. As a result, staff read and filter out the salient information, then forward the most important letters to their boss, while discarding those they deem less important. You need to therefore not only be succinct, but to use the right structure and buzz words, thus staying in the game long enough for your correspondence to be passed up the line and hopefully, eventually, reaching the politician.

Let?s examine the specifics of a good letter from the top.


n Put your name and address in the upper left corner.

n Be sure to affix the correct postage.


The heading must include:

- The date;

- The legislator?s full name or first name, middle initial, and last name;

- The legislator?s title (e.g., Senator, Congressperson, Assemblyperson);

- The Legislator?s office location (e.g., State Capitol Building, Senate Building);

- The correct address (look it up if you need to, and be sure to include the ZIP code).

- The legislator?s name, title, and address on the envelope and the heading of the letter should be the same.

Position Statement

- Early in the body of the letter, preferably in the first paragraph, state your position.

- Do so clearly and succinctly, in one sentence.

- Feel free to use emphasis (bold, italics) to help make your point.


Be sure to adhere to these principles:

- Make the first paragraph, which contains your position statement, short and direct.

- In the paragraphs that follow, state the reasons for your position. If you wish, you can highlight them with bullets.

- Provide at least one example of each position of your argument.

- Provide a strong and effective conclusion that ?closes your sales pitch.?

- If possible, include a history of previous legislative actions that were beneficial to your cause.

Getting a Response

- Most messages to legislators don?t ask for a response. If you want or expect a reply, say exactly that.

- Don?t expect to get an immediate personal interview with the legislator. That takes time.


- Sign with your full name and title, including your company name or organizational affiliation, if applicable.

- Make sure to include your full address, telephone number, e-mail address, and FAX number, so a staff member can contact you.

- If you have sent copies of the message to others, indicate at the bottom, using the Cc: format. Most e-mail readers have a Cc: field.

After Action

- Make a follow-up call a day or two after your e-mail was sent, or seven or eight days after mailing a letter.

- A good time for your follow-up call is Thursday or Friday afternoon, since the office will be less busy and staff will be more likely to have time for your call.

- You should time the sending of your message with this in mind.

- You should also make sure the legislator is available, so your message will not sit unread for weeks or months between legislative sessions.

Good to Do

- To guarantee maximum results, call the office before you send your message. This will not only let you determine the correct title and address; it will put them on notice that your message is on the way. It will also let you know the staff member(s) to whom to direct your message.

- Check your message for spelling and grammar errors. Most word processor programs will help you with this.

- If you?re not using a computer, use the dictionary to look up words about which you are uncertain, or ask a friend to look over your message.

- [Write a letter if possible; the psychological impact will be greater. Legislators care that you care enough about the issue to write an actual letter. And don?t fret if you don?t have a computer. Hand-written letters really get the attention of legislative aides. ?Ed.]

- If time isn?t critical, let the message sit for a day or two before sending. Upon re-reading, you will almost certainly find things you want to change, add, or delete.

- If it suits your agenda, release copies of your message to the press.


- Don?t resort to profanity, insults, or questionable language.

- Never threaten.

- Don?t sound greedy or impolite.

- Don?t take on too much in one letter. Stick to one issue. Send additional messages if necessary.

So?please get busy, and write a few letters of your own. The more you send, the easier it will become. Practice... perfection.

Having said all this, allow me to add one more thing: if you truly aren?t comfortable taking the time to write a political letter or e-mail, write one anyway. Write something. Write anything! An impressive volume of messages on any one subject always gets a politician?s interest. While your message might not be the best-written to land in their in box, it will be one more nail in the coffin?so to speak. Write!
Lastly, try to enjoy the process. You will be helping not only yourself, but the entire transgender community, and making the world a better place in which to live?and isn?t that our goal?

Divinity is founder of Carolina Trans-
Sensual Alliance and editor of All the Beautiful People. She was Chair of the 1994 Southern
Comfort Conference and co-organizer of the
2002 Magnolia Ball. She is a consultant on
alternative lifestyles to the Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, NC Police Department
Training Academy. She considers herself an
activist, agitator, educator, and generally
all-around pushy broad.