For some, meeting with a legislator can be a bit intimidating. You CAN learn to effectively speak to your legislator. I had the opportunity to do just that at a training session on Wednesday, March the 18th, at 4:00 p.m. Two representatives of the San Francisco Transgender Law Center came to Fresno to meet with and help a few of us effectively speak to one of our legislators.
The meeting took place at the Fresno Center For Non-Violence. Kristina Wertz, Legal Director, along with an associate, Alexis Revera, advocate, opened the meeting with introductions. Rachel Bowman and Sherry Donegan of Rachels Projects Foundation, Diana Feliz Oliva, MSW, Community Worker, of California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., and Dr. Jennifer A. Burnett, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor, UCSF Fresno, were there to learn some etiquette and protocols for a meeting with United States Congressman Jim Costa, House of Representatives District 20.
First, start with some ground rules concerning the way the meeting is to be run. Next, cover how to research the Congressman’s voting record, committees, hometown, and sympathies. Learn, also, how to research any opposing views and develop responses to any arguments that might be raised.
The first meeting with the Congressman is to develop a relationship with them before asking them for any commitments to any particular legislation. About a month ahead, send a note or fax asking for a meeting. Include who you are and how to reach you. Then send a follow up fax or letter. Make sure you call or visit the office to establish a firm date and time. Plan your meeting. You can have control over how the meeting will proceed.
Meet with everyone that is going, about a week before the appointment date. Develop and share your one (1) minute personal stories. Personal stories with emotional experiences work well. Decide on a spokesperson/facilitator and practice, practice, practice. Prepare short fact, data, and information sheets to leave with the Representative afterward.
It is important to be quick, positive, polite, and professional. There should be about 20 to 30 minutes available for the meeting. It is not unusual to have a meeting with an aide as the Representative travels a lot between their home district and Washington D.C.
During the meeting have someone introduce the group and state why you are there. Everyone takes a turn to give a contribution to the purpose of the meeting. Ask if there are any questions. Ask if a picture or pictures can be taken. Many times an area with a camera is already set up in the office. After the meeting follow up with a note or fax and a thank you for taking the time to listen to the group.
With these suggested guidelines in mind, we had a meeting on Thursday, March the 19th at 1:00 p.m., with Representative Costa’s aide, District Representative Liz Gomez.
First, the group met at the California Rural Legal Assistance office on Kern Street and Van Ness Ave., at 12:00 noon for practice, support, and last minute tune ups. Vickie Armour Healy, Pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church joined us as an ally and religious representative. At 12:30 we walked over to Representative Costa’s Fresno office at 855 M Street, Suite 940 for the 1:00 p.m. appointment.
We found a fortunate opportunity to pay the aide a compliment on our way into the meeting room. Everyone took turns with what they wanted to say. Kristina facilitated and covered the efforts of legislating issues and employment equality (ENDA) concerns of transgender persons. Dr. Burnett described her employment experiences. Rachel covered health concerns. Sherry touched on harassment issues. Diana talked of the legal and insurance concerns. Pastor Vickie stressed the support of some of the religious community. All had short, personal stories of their experiences.
The meeting went very well and the response was very positive. Liz took notes and seemed to understand what was to be passed along and discussed with Representative Costa (who was due back in Fresno within a few days). This was an initial contact for relationship building and we all look forward to many more meetings. Questions were asked ,pictures were taken, and a next contact is to be a personal face to face between Dr. Burnett and Representative Costa a little later in the year.
Afterwards, we met and discussed what went well, what could have gone better, and any next steps. We signed a thank you note and agreed to keep in touch with each other for follow up. We hope to make visits to other legislators very soon. For more information about this and other meetings, please contact www.transgenderlawcenter.org, or this writer at [email protected].