In social movement studies we often talk about ‘frames’ – ways of structuring events into stories and narratives (often to fit a particular political or ideological worldview).
For example: protests usually have beginnings, middles and ends; there is either victory or defeat; there are usually heroes (most commonly us) and villains (the people that we are protesting against).
Frames are particularly useful to social movements because they are a way of short-handing, signposting and communicating the key issues the social movement wishes to address to prospective members, powers that be and the general public.
In case you think this is all just social theory – you can literally see GLAAD (formally the Gay & Lesbian Alliance against Defamation) using actual frames in the above image as part of its advertising bumf for its #GotYourBack Pledge campaign to encourage Americans to become allies of LGBT Americans.
The complication arises because of how powerful frames can be at simplifying and communicating a message. It’s what can get lost, misrepresented or erased in the framing.
I have no doubt that GLAAD saw their advertising campaign for the #GotyourBack Pledge as a great way to frame ‘A’ and ‘Ally’ and imprint those on the American consciousness. However, asexual activists have been working diligently for more than a decade so that ‘A’, in discussions of sexual and gender orientations and identities, frames asexual visibility across its diversity. GLAAD were quite literally boxing in what ‘A’ could mean in a sexual minority political context, in a way that erased asexual visibility and the efforts of asexual activists.
The response by asexual activists to GLAAD’s original framing of their campaign, which perpetuated however unintentionally an on-going erasure of other gender and sexual orientations by predominantly dominated L and G organisations, was to reframe the campaign online as a #GiveitBack campaign.
GLAAD issued an apology and retraction (to their credit). They further stated unequivocally “the ‘A’ in LGBTQIA represents millions of Asexual, Agender, and Aromantic people, who are far too often left out of the conversation about acceptance. It was never, ever our intention to suggest otherwise…” As importantly the frames themselves have been extended, I think. It was interesting to see GLAAD as a major North American LGBT organisation use the term LGBTQIA instead of LGBT.
I believe what the above shows is not only how important an understanding of frames are to the research of social movements, but how important that understanding is to engaging with them in activism.